A long time ago, before the Internet... yes, it is true, the pre-Internet days were not just the stuff of myth and legend, they actually existed. Anyway, long ago, before the Internet, a photographer - even a good photographer - had a difficult time getting noticed. Today it’s a lot easier. Keep reading for some tips on how to get your work out there in the public.
How we used to do it
In the old days, if you wanted your work to be seen by others, there were only really a few ways to do it. First, you could contact the local galleries and see if they had a place for you. But you had to be very good, and most of the time you had to already be known in the photography community before you could get a gallery to even consider displaying your work. Failing that, you could also go to smaller local businesses such as coffee shops and ask them to display your work. Sometimes in smaller communities, new photographers could start to get noticed in privately-owned businesses where there was a lot of foot traffic such as coffee shops. Another way to get noticed in those days was to enter your work in local competitions, such as the county fair or even national magazine competitions (although the ratio of entrants to winners was quite a bit higher for those national competitions than for a smaller venue such as the county fair). Besides that, there weren’t really a whole lot of options for getting your work out there in front of the public, unless you wanted to self-publish and promote a photography book at your own expense, or open your own photography studio/gallery. Most hobby photographers didn't have the means to do that, so they were stuck with a fanbase that was usually limited to friends and family.
Now the Internet, of course, is both a blessing and a curse. Today, everybody who is ever picked up a camera now has the ability to get their work out there in front of thousands or even millions of people. And not all of it is truly worthy of being admired, but that doesn't stop people from trying. Of course with the Internet, comes all kinds of bloggers, commenters, and other people masquerading as experts who can post pretty much whatever they want on any topic they want, so it can be hard to peer through the clutter and find the work that’s really deserving of attention.
That means it's not really just as simple as posting something. In order for your work to really get out in front of a lot of people, you have to know where to post it. It's easy enough to start your own photography blog, but if you don't know anything about promoting, search engine optimization, and being willing to pay per click, you may still end up with a fanbase that consists mostly of friends and family and those who know your URL. Let's take a quick look at some better ways to get your work out there on the Internet, and more importantly, to get it noticed by others.
One of the best places to start is with a photography forum, and I'm not just saying that because I happen to own one. As it turns out, photography communities are great places to connect with other photographers, to get your work seen and noticed, and perhaps even more importantly, to get critiques from impartial viewers. Having your work critiqued by others is one of the most important steps you can take towards improving your work to the point where it does get noticed by other people, so if you aren't already a part of a photography community I strongly suggest that you find one that suits you and sign on. Bigger communities such as Flickr are also great places to go, but keep in mind that Flickr is huge and it can be easy to become a little lost in the deluge.
If you are just not that comfortable with the idea of sharing your photographs with strangers, start with a smaller, more familiar community such as Facebook. But do keep in mind that friends and family tend to be less harsh critics of your work than strangers might be, and sometimes, in order to make real improvements, you really do need critics that can be a little more honest.
If you start with your usual Facebook circle, it's easy to move on from there to a Facebook group that's geared to the kind of photography you enjoy. You might even be able to find local groups who organize photoraphy outings and other events for like-minded people, which can be a great way to get to know new people in your community as well as a way to hone your photography skills.
Photo competitions are still a great way to get your work out there, but the difference between the digital world and the print world is that they're much more accessible than they once were. Rather than having to submit prints of a certain size, that are printed on a certain kind of paper, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, via the US Postal Service (not to mention making sure that the correct amount of postage is on the envelope and that you’ve included the right entry form), you can now simply submit your photographs online. Of course that doesn't necessarily mean that you don't have to follow formatting rules—usually your photos need to be of a certain quality and cannot exceed a certain pixel dimension, but it tends to be easier and cheaper to submit those entries when you're doing it all electronically. Of course, if it's simpler for you that also means it's simpler for everybody else, too, so you might have a little more competition than you would have back in the days of enter-by-mail. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't do it—for a start, it takes courage to put your work up for review, and if nothing else, it's good for the soul.
One modern advantage of digital competitions is that contest runners aren't limited by space when announcing winners. A print magazine might only be able to set aside a few pages to display the grand, first, second and third place winners, but a digital competition has potentially unlimited space, which means that they're free to display all the runners-up and even some honorable mentions (at their own discretion, of course). To maximize your chances of appearing on that list of winners and honorable mentions, look at the past winners' pages and choose competitions with a healthy list of honorees. You may not win prize money, but having your work displayed amongst the best of the best is one way to get noticed online.
Print and digital publications
Seeking traditional routes for exposure is never a bad idea—you can still call up your local paper or a print magazine and ask for their submission guidelines. This is a great way to make money as well as a way to gain exposure. Local papers are always looking for photographs, so if you can manage to be the only professional photographer at a local event (or at least the best one) you can sell your images and get money as well as exposure in your local area. Larger magazines are harder to break into, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try—just make sure you request a copy of their submission guidleines and that you follow them to the letter (just as you would when submitting work to a competition). And to maximize your chances of getting a sale, check out copies of that magazine (most print magazines also have digital versions) so you can get an idea about the kind of work they accept and the style you should be shooting in.
Remember that not all magazines are print—look for online magazines too, and see if you can get some of your work published that way.
Stock photo sites
Now, stock photo sites aren't so much a way to gain recognition as they are a way to make money while gaining some anonymous satisfaction knowing that your work is being utilized and seen by others. Stock photo sties will pay you a fee in exchange for permitting paid customers royalty-free use of your work. You can't watermark a stock photo, and your name won't ever be attached to it while it's in use by a stock photo customer, but it can be a great way to earn some extra income and get your work seen by a lot of people, even if you won't get a whole lot of recognition in return. Keep in mind that a stock photo site has pretty strict quality requirements—they won't tolerate even a little bit of misfocusing, noise or other quality issues that you might be able to get away with in other venues. You'll likely have to post-process all of your work before submission, and even then most of your photos might end up being rejected.
One way to really get your work noticed quickly is to post it on Reddit. Now, in order for you to get real exposure this way, the images you post have to be the best you are capable of. If your photo stands out and gets upvoted by enough people, the amount of exposure you could gain could be huge. Reddit can be a little scary because along with the potential for positive exposure, there's also potential for negative exposure, so make sure you're not only posting the best of what you can do but that you also have a thick skin to protect yourself from any negative comments you might (and likely will) receive.
Just because we live in a digital world doesn't mean that there are no longer local galleries who might display your work—they still exist, so it's still worth calling up those coffee shop owners and curators of small galleries to see if they might consider displaying your photos. If you happen to visit a local cafe with conspicuosly bare walls, you could even make the suggestion—ask to speak to the owner and offer to help him make his walls gallery-ready in exchange for granting you the right to be the first photographer who displays her work there.
Finally, remember that to really get noticed online or anywhere else, your work has to be noticeable. A lovely photo of a rose may be a lovely photo of a rose, but the truth is that unless you do something interesting with the light, or the composition, or there's a cool bug peeking out from somewhere in those petals, your lovely photo of a rose is going to look just like every other lovely photo of a rose. So not only is it important to show technical excellence (tack sharp focus, perfect exposure, spot-on white balance), you also have to show creativity and originality. In other words, make sure that every photo you post, submit, enter or hang on a wall is stunning not only in execution but in subject. It should be unique, compelling, interesting and attention-getting. Otherwise, no matter how many people load that page or walk into that coffee shop, they're not going to give your work much attention because they won't really have a good reason to spend time looking at it.
It can be a pretty scary thing to put your work out there for the world to see—asking others to critique (or even look at) your photography is like asking them to critique a little bit of your own self. No one likes negative criticism, but even the best photographers receive it. So the first thing you need to remember is that the whole world is not going to love your work, no matter how good you think it is. Some people are going to be mean, others are going to be helpful, and still others are going to give you the kind of praise that really makes you feel good about yourself. Take all of it in stride, use it as you find it helpful and discard what you don't find helpful. And relax, knowing that exposure is only going to make you a better photographer in the long run.
- Photography forums
- Photo competitions
- Submit your photos online
- Follow the submission guidelines
- Look for competitions that feature a lot of winners
- Print and digital publications
- Take photos for your local newspaper
- Submit to national magazines
- Sell your images on stock photo sites
- Submit only your best work
- Make sure you have a thick skin
- Local galleries
- Contact local galleries or small venues like coffee shops
- Be original
- Submit only your best, most creative work
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