Branching Out with Photography

Dog Tail Designs, Branching Out, Photography Styles, Photography, Commercial, Portfolio, Fine Art

More Than Portraits

Being a photographer may seem like a cut-and-dry career. Get hired, take pictures. Families, seniors, weddings, engagement – the categories are obvious but limited. What if we wanted to do more? What does a photographer do when they want to stretch their artistic limbs and branch out? Dog Tail Designs has asked this question for ourselves, and we are making that effort to pursue other avenues.

Inspiration is everywhere, both within and around. Amazing photographers in history have become household names as a result of their creative work. Achieving such a reputable status is rare, but not impossible. In today’s day and age, there are many opportunities to “get your name out there.” Becoming an authority in the field of photography is a challenging and rewarding endeavor.

But how does one go about establishing himself as an authority, making that name for himself, and branching out beyond portrait photography? No magic formula exists, unfortunately. Diligence and determination would be two of the main ingredients, of course. And talent. You have to truly be gifted as a photographer before you can expect to be recognized. Then what?

Commercial Photography

Commercial photography is one area where a name can be made for yourself. Depending on where you live, this can be a hard field in which to break into. However, businesses exist everywhere, so the need for commercial photography is legitimately there. Getting a business to hire you is the challenge. How do you help a business see the benefits of showcasing their products and services through truly professional pictures?

  1. Make a connection. It helps if you are a regular patron of this business. Get to know the owner and make sure they get to know you. Don’t keep it a secret that you’re a photographer.
  2. Find their needs. Do they have a website filled with cell phone pictures? Yikes! That screams, “I need professional pictures!” What type of art do they display in their store? Anything? Nothing? Unrelated, random pictures that are missing the marketing opportunity?
  3. Introduce the idea. This is where it gets scary. You’re opening yourself up to rejection. And, believe me, you will be rejected. But don’t let that stop you. Begin with an offer to take pictures for their website or store.
  4. Don’t charge. But we didn’t get into this business to work for free!! I’m merely suggesting that you don’t charge to TAKE the pictures. Let the business know that you’re trying to expand your portfolio and taking some commercial pictures would help YOU. This turns the obligation table and takes the pressure off the business owner. Tell them that if they end up liking some of the pictures, they can buy them at a reduced price.
  5. Sign an agreement. If you’ve made it this far, and a business is going to let you take pictures, make sure there’s an agreement in place. Read the post regarding contracts and agreements!
  6. Ask the owner what they’d like to see in the photography. You’re going to have a unique style that you bring to the table, and you should stay true to that. But, you HAVE to listen to your potential clients and give them what they want. Combine your style with their vision!
Dog Tail Designs, Commercial Photography

Commercial Photography can be very rewarding and lucrative. But it takes some investment. If you don’t have the right equipment to produce quality commercial pictures, then you’re barking up the wrong tree. See the commercial products on our Wish List for an idea of the various equipment that can help you produce the highest quality pictures possible.

Once you’ve taken the pictures, try to present them to the owner in a creative manner. Yes, you can provide an online gallery through a service like ShootProof, but this doesn’t always do the work justice. Many individuals access the web through their phone, making the picture look less appealing than what it really is. If your budget allows, have your best picture printed and framed. Take it to the owner to show them the potential for commercial photography.

Remember… you agreed to a “reduced price” if they would let you take the pictures. How reduced to you go? Very little! You worked hard on these pictures, and photography is a skilled art that takes quite a bit of time from shoot to finished edit. Don’t sell yourself short… but don’t price yourself out of a sale. Be willing to negotiate your price with the business owner. If he doesn’t like your price and chooses not to buy anything, ask them what they’d be willing to pay. Ideally, you can agree on a price that’s fair for you and leaves them happy and willing to recommend you to others!

Portfolio Building

One thing every want-to-be model needs is an outstanding portfolio. One that shows their versatility and makes them look impeccable. Many novice models are at the mercy of the photographers with whom they’ve worked, and their portfolio is lacking real appeal.

Let me introduce you to a little community called Model Mayhem. This treasure trove of a website is full of photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, and MODELS! It’s very easy to search for models in your area. Finding a model who needs help with her portfolio is not hard to do, as many of the young, inexperienced, would-be-models have a gallery of selfies and snapshots. They’re screaming for professional pictures to be done!

First, you need an outstanding portfolio on Model Mayhem to make yourself look appealing as a photographer. You need some model work that you can display to establish yourself as an authority in portfolio building. So, like commercial photography, you’re probably looking at making an investment. But, you don’t have to “go all out” to build this spectacular portfolio.

  1. Find a willing “model.” We recommend searching within your pool of friends and acquaintances. Do you know someone who would make a great model? Ask them to do a photoshoot or two for you. Be willing to compensate them in SOME way (not necessarily monetarily). Luckily, people often like the idea of having professional pictures taken. Offering to do pictures of them for free and providing them with a print release of all the pics is a great compensation.
  2. Plan your model’s look. Here’s a general rule of thumb – the sexier the better. Modeling is a sexy career, so you want to take pictures that portray your ability to make someone look sexy. Apparel is probably the most important factor to consider. If you’re lucky, your volunteer model will have clothing that fits the look you need. If you’re a little less lucky, you’ll have to buy some outfits to fit the bill. Yes, this can get pricey, but it’s really up to you what you can budget for this.
  3. Plan your photo shoot. Be creative and think like a modeling scout. Themed shoots are a great way to show off your talent. Vintage lingerie. Pin-up style. Sexy urban. Find locations and props that will show off your theme. Think of many creative poses for each location/prop. When your shoot is over, you’ll want well over a thousand pictures to choose from for editing.
  4. Execute the plan. Pick a day with ideal weather conditions. And plan for plenty of time. Read my post about the Abandoned Building. This portfolio-building shoot was a great learning experience for us, and you can learn from it, too!

Once you have some great shots to establish your ability to make outstanding portfolios for other models, then create your profile on Model Mayhem. Reach out and send friend requests to models with whom you’d like to work. View their pictures. Like some of their shots. Leave comments that are flattering and professional. Really draw them into your portfolio and make them want to work with you! In many of their profiles, you’ll see that they may be willing to work for trade. Approach these models and ask them if you can do a photoshoot with them. Really drive home the point that this will help you build your portfolio AND theirs. Share your photo shoot ideas, and let them know how you plan to make them look great.

Get several portfolios under your belt, and you’ll be well on your way to being that photographer to whom models go for a great collection of photos. Marketing will be key once you’ve got yourself established as a portfolio builder. Instagram and Facebook are a great way to reach the local community and find models who need your services. The larger your following the more people you’ll reach… obviously. Easier said than done, but make it a focus point for yourself.

Dog Tail Designs, Portfolio Building

Fine Art

The options are endless when it comes to Fine Art, but breaking in and selling these photos is a real challenge. Do you have an eye for beautiful landscapes? Are you a natural at street photography? Is your mind racing with creative ideas for prop photography? If so, then you’re on your way to breaking into this challenging field.

The art you create is entirely up to you, but you have got to bring your best skills to the table. Though you don’t want your pictures to look “photoshopped,” you will need excellent editing techniques. Lights and shadows. Coloring. Special effects. All of these can and should come into play when you’re creating that masterpiece.

But what do you do with your creations once they’re done? The idea is to sell them. Make money off of them. Become famous for your brilliance! This is where you really have to go that extra mile and put yourself out there.

  1. Approach an art gallery. In our local town, we have a business that started out as an art framing specialist. As she grew, she started displaying local art. The pieces really are impressive, and she’s become a go-to source for purchasing work by local artists. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a gallery such as this to introduce your pieces. Expect high expectations if you want your work in a gallery.
  2. Find other businesses that may be willing to display your work. In our small, downtown coffee shop, art work is displayed with the option to buy. Maybe you know of such a place. Or, you could ask a business if they’d be willing to display and sell your pieces. Think about the business, the clientele, and your style of art. Will it fit?
  3. Tap into the stock imagery. There is a slew of stock image websites that you can join, upload your pictures, and possibly make a sale. Be aware that the competition is stiff. Most of these sites have millions of pictures for sale. Some sites pay more than others in commission fees, making them the more appealing option. The highest paying site to consider is A full-sized image sells for upwards of $150, and your commission is over fifty percent. It’s a long, hard climb to make it up the stock image ladder. These sites will promote the best photographers who build a large following.

Tap into social media. Build your following on Instagram. Create a business page on Facebook. Build those circles on Google+. Feature your work on these platforms. And don’t be shy about the fact that they’re for sale.

Dog Tail Designs, Fine Art, Photography Services

All of the Above

Promoting services other than portrait photography requires the extra mile. You’re creating a very specific name for yourself. Though I’ve listed some tips for each genre above, there are some tips that apply to all of them.

  1. Network! It can be intimidating and awkward to talk about yourself. You may wonder if the person listening cares what you have to say about your photography endeavors. But! Do it anyway. You never know when you’re going to tap into that specific person who’s been looking for exactly what you’re offering. Have business cards ready with your pertinent information.
  2. Have a website. Please, don’t get a freebie website that’s going to make you look cheap. Invest in self-hosting and get a domain name that’s free from those glaringly “free-site” add-on’s. If you’re not comfortable building a website, check out Etsy for someone who will do it for you on the cheap. Or, try your hand at Wix. However, a WordPress website is king these days, and the information available to walk you through creating one is endless! SquareSpace is also another possibility. This isn’t a post about websites… If you want that, click here for the post about your online presence.
  3. Write a blog. If you’re going to have a website – and you better – it needs to include a blog! Blogs make your site dynamic, not static. And, they really help with search engine results. If you want to climb the Google ladder, then you better get to writing.
  4. Create your following on as many social media platforms as possible. I’ve already mentioned this a couple times, but I can’t stress it enough. Share every blog post that you write. Interact with others within your social community. Follow others in hopes of a follow back. Stretch those social limbs.

Keep On and Don’t Give Up

Photography period – whether portrait or another avenue – is a hard career. You likely won’t be able to quit your day job for a long time, if ever. If you’re in it for the money, then you’re in it for the wrong reasons. And, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment – the income can be few and far between. If you’re not doing portrait photography on the side, and you’re just focusing on the channels in this post, then you’re facing an even tougher road.

But don’t get down! Constantly assess why you are pursuing this. Remind yourself that you love photography, you love being creative, and you love that feeling when you finish the perfect picture. It’s going to take investing in equipment. It’s going to take your free time. But the rewards are there! You become popular on stock image sites. You get a big response on social media. You make a sale. It’s what we live for!

Have you branched out from portrait photography? Have you longed to, but something is holding you back? Share your thoughts and dreams. I’d love to hear what you have to say about branching out.

This Article Was Written By


Wendy is the assistant behind the magic. She helps Casey on all the photo shoots and handles the marketing side of Dog Tail Designs.