Not Getting Photography Gigs? Are You Sure It’s Them, And Not You?

Don Giannatti
7 min readJan 26, 2024

Lots of jobs out there. If you aren't getting work, perhaps it is time for a deep-tissue audit with a bit of pain.

Photo by the author.

The photography business (industry?) seems to be in sort of a funk these days. Whether it is worry over AI, diminishing editorial opportunities, or how to get more anonymous followers on some worthless social media platform, the funk is palpable.

And that is a problem.

As someone who has been in this business for over five decades, I can tell you that the business has changed. A lot.

Not for the better.
Not for the worst.

Just changed.

It’s different on a hell of a lot of levels, and not understanding that causes the cognitive dissonance I hear so often.

“It should be…” or, “I used to…” or, “Why can’t it…”

It will never be what it was, and when I started it wasn’t what it was ten years prior. And I heard it all then… 5o years ago.

It, and everything else, is never going to be what it was when you were 25, 35, or even 45.

For all of us, no matter what age we are, no matter what we do.

“The good old days… As bad as we think they are, these will become the good old days for our children…”
Gladys Knight

What all that means is that we must adapt.

OK, yes, I know how that word can cause some people to bristle with resentment, but really, what is the alternative?

And guess what? You may find that adapting to some new stuff can actually reinvigorate your business, art, and life.

However, some things will help you understand how your business shapes up and how to address some of the challenges ahead.

Here are a few points to consider:

  1. Do you have a price list for typical, repeatable types of assignments?
    Like drop-n-pops, corporate headshots, grip-n-grins, or basic product shots on white? These are items that you should consider productizing, and not bid every bloody one of them.
  2. Have you established a base price for your shoots?
    What is the lowest price you will shoot for? For me, it is $500. The simplest photo is going to be $500 and up even if it only takes me 15 minutes. So if it is something in the productized items, they have to have enough to add up to $500. On some jobs, I add that as a base before I begin figuring out the shoot fee. This is usually for smaller gigs under $2K. This is important.
  3. Do you have a social media plan?
    First of all, you should know that Instagram is not going to save you. Not even close. And if you are posting here and there without consistency, a plan, and some sort of system, you may as well be photographing that comfort food you eat in the studio while not working. Sorry, but social media is a process, not a randomly approached freebie. Social media can be beneficial, but it is tangential to finding work that will sustain you.
  4. How healthy is your marketing strategy/system?
    A marketing strategy is different than a marketing plan. One is semi-generic; the other is focused and deliberate. You must have a solid plan, but just like a dream, it is useless without execution. Your strategy forces your system, and your system feeds your strategy. Both are on full display as you take action to bring in the clients who need you.
  5. Is your portfolio worth a client’s time?
    Ooh, that one is a little spicy, but I am not sorry. It is simply something I am seeing more and more. Badly designed, or worse, boring websites that look like a free version of something that was offered along with your hosting plan. And in many situations, it usually is. Listen, you need a clean, modern, lovely, cool, terrific website. We are in the visual arts, you know. And if our website makes us look like we have no visual taste… well… that is not going to help our cause as we seek to make photographs for people who DO HAVE visual taste.
  6. How big is your email list?
    If you are in a big city, 250 solid leads can be all you need. In a smaller town or region, you will need a few more, say 350. You do not get them all at one time. You must begin to gather them, research them, know who they are and what they do, and then begin to push your work out on a solid, irreversible, and consistent schedule. Failure to do this will create a huge problem for growth. This is not up for debate.
  7. How many new portfolio images are you making each week?
    Yes, week. If you are not adding at least one image to your portfolio per week, then what the hell business are you in? This is what we do. This is what we show our clients we do. This is not optional, nor is it something we ignore for a time while awaiting the muse to strike us silly in the middle of the night. It is our job, our number one job. To not understand that is to go swimming with anchors on your legs.
  8. Do you know your numbers?
    If I say KPI, do you know what it means? Do you know and track your KPI? How about a P&L? How much do you spend on advertising or promotion? How much profit did you have last year? Did you know that your net is not profit unless you have set yourself a salary? Not knowing the numbers of your business can lead to making bad decisions, wasting money, or ending up behind the 8-ball at a crucial time.
  9. How strong is your contract?
    You do have a contract. I know you do because you follow me and know how much I believe in rock-solid, well-presented contracts. Are you protected against a non-paying client? What happens if the client cancels or doesn’t take possession of the images? Who is responsible if someone, even someone who signed a model release, decides to go nuts and sue? What about if the client decides the model you hired or the food stylist is not what they had in mind and wants a reshoot on your dime? Contracts can be boring until you need yours to fend off a disaster. Ya know.
  10. Do you know how to sell?
    Because everything we do is sales. Yeah, I know, you don’t want to be a salesperson, and selling is such a turnoff, and yadda yadda yadda. Talk to the hand. You have only one other choice, and it doesn’t involve using cameras at any point in your day, but you’re gonna know how to flip a fry basket. It is a sales business. Whether you like it or not is irrelevant. But it doesn’t have to be icky, or painful if you do it right, and with your own twist on it. If you don’t know how, learn to sell.

OK, so how’d you do?

Do you see what you are doing right?

Are there any places where you could do better?

If there are, you now have a list, a roadmap, to where you need to put some attention.

If you have taken my Client Acquisition Sprint for Serious Photographers, you did pretty well.

These are the subjects we cover, and more, like:

  • learning how to talk to an established art buyer versus a direct client
  • knowing how to work with a magazine to maximize your fee
  • how to bid a job when you know there are other players
  • what your website must have and what it can do without
  • understanding the power of repetition, consistency, and message
  • what to do when you start to feel down
  • ways to make marketing a blast instead of a drag
  • strategies for getting attention from the clients you want to work for
  • building a strong asset list of vendors, creatives, and others
  • shaping your offer for a client’s instant attention
  • ways to write sales letters, cold emails, and marketing emails that get read

We do this in five straight days, so you can get to it, start working on the system, and find clients ASAP. This system works. The quicker you start working with this system, the faster you will see results in the form of client inquiries and purchase orders.

I have kept the price super low so you have no reason to not jump in and get to work.

I ran this twice last year, and both times received super great reviews.

But I most likely will not do it again until this summer.

Thing is, if you take it this time, you may be too busy to take it in the summer.

And that is a good thing.

I know this works.

One of my group mentees let us know that she adopted one of the strategies, sent out 12 emails last week, and by Tuesday this week (January 23, 2024), she had received four notes back and three appointments to discuss working with agencies. And these agencies are all over the US, not just in her town.

Another photographer changed up his website and got three inquiries on the first day of the new launch.

I am not promising your success. I am promising that if you give this a try, by next Friday you will be far closer to finding and landing commercial photo gigs than you are today

I only have room for four more as I want small groups to get to know each of you.

If you want 2024 to be more exciting and bring you more clients, hit this page and check out the program. I hope you sign up quickly; we start on Monday.

I rarely discuss my classes here, and it will be a while before I do it again. Thanks for the opportunity.

This photo of me is by Carol Rioux, taken on a camera: light-painted in Calgary, BC.

Hi, I’m Don Giannatti, a photographer and mentor for up-and-coming photographers. You can find me on my website, Don Giannatti, and at my Substack site, where I also publish for creative people. All subscribers to my Substack have access to a free, long-form workshop on the business of commercial and professional photography.



Don Giannatti

Designer. Photographer. Author. Entrepreneur: Loving life at 100MPH. I love designing, making photographs and writing.