Keeping your name, photography work and availability in front of people (potential customers) is desirable for all photographers, amateurs and professionals. It is especially critical if you are looking to be hired for your photography services. Asking the appropriate people (re: pet owners) whether I can shoot their dog has proven to be one of the most successful marketing strategies for my portrait photography business.
Developing innovative methods to get your photography work “in front of people” is a must. Sometimes, there is a very thin line between “innovative/creative and annoying.” Asking people if I can photograph their dogs has proven to be a very innovative and effective method to find new photography customers. I have tested other questions and have found varying degrees of success. Walking up to complete strangers and asking if you can take their picture might prove challenging by itself. However, asking a person with a dog (or a bird, cat or pot-bellied pig, or a python, etc.) if you can take their pet’s picture is the perfect conversation starter.
Most of the pet owners that I ask grant my request. The few that don’t, just don’t feel up to taking a picture themselves. If people ask what the purpose of the picture is I tell them that I’m a photographer and I am building my portfolio.
Sometimes, they ask how they can get a copy of the photo or see the portfolio. I give them a business card that includes a web site address with easy-to-follow instructions to view the photos. I use the services of companies like SmugMug.com and PrintRoom.com for fulfillment services. With such services, I simply upload the images to the web site provided and set the prices for the pictures. As a rule, I price the (“may I shoot your dog?”) snapshots very low. That way, they can purchase good shots (of them and their favorite companion) very inexpensively. They remember the moments and they remember me (especially since I put my web site address and telephone number on a magnetized business card).
The snapshots aren’t the photography services that I’m marketing or that I’m trying to make a large profit. Portrait photography is the photography niche that I promote with this method of marketing. Some of the customers view the snapshots online and order the low-priced photos. Others call and inquire about other photography services – usually pet portraits. I am always able to include a mention of the people por trait work I do.
If you’ve never owned a pet, you may, understandably, not fully have appreciation for the attachment people have with the pets in their lives. We recognize that they love and adore their children. But, we forget or never know the passion that most people have for their pets.
In southern California, where I live, pets are definitely a “way of life” for many residents. In southern California communities, people walking their pets are as normal as heavy car traffic and smog. I pick a spot with good foot traffic; I wait with camera ready; I look for a happy face; and I ask the question: “Excuse me, may I shoot your dog?” I can usually ask the question, get a response, take 4 – 6 photos and give a business card in less than forty-five seconds. I work fast and I smile a lot!
Appealing to the passion that people have for their pets will open inviting doors for photographers that understand that passion. Photography is about visually capturing memories, moments and companionship/relationship. Using “ice-breaker” methods are made easier when you know the person’s passion. Asking someone if you can shoot their dog surely gets their attention. By the time that they recognize the humor of the question they are open to “capturing the moment visually.”
The key to this method is preparation. I subscribe to the online photography fulfillment company like SmugMug.com or PrintRoom.com (there are many others with varying levels of quality services). I set up the provided web site, print the business cards and begin using the strategy. Of course, I’m also prepared to provide whatever type portrait photography the potential client may be looking for.