How to Stand Out: Cait Oppermann’s Marketing Strategy
At PDNedu, we ask a lot of photographers how they got their start in order to translate experience into actionable advice. The rare photographer may get lucky and get “discovered” by an editor early on, but for most, it’s a grind to get a steady stream of commissioned work.
Cait Oppermann, a 2012 graduate of Pratt Institute’s BFA program, has been steadily building her client list for five years. She takes a well-rounded approach to pitching herself, and it’s paid off, with commissions from Buzzfeed, The FADER, The New Yorker, VSCO and WIRED. She was also recently named a PDN‘s 30 photographer to watch. We asked her to share some insight into how she markets her work.
Shape Your Online Presence
Building a brand for yourself starts online, so take a critical eye to what you share to represent yourself.
On Oppermann’s website (caitoppermann.com) you’ll find a mixed collection of assigned and personal work to scroll through. Her photography—and the design of her site—gives you an immediate impression of her work.
Having a recognizable style goes hand in hand with name recognition. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick to a narrow range of subjects. Whether she’s photographing an editorial portrait of musician Mitski or a series of solar panels for a story on low-cost renewable energy, you can recognize her images as uniquely hers.
Social media accounts are an extension of your website. Post often, she suggests, but only with quality content. “My Instagram is without a doubt the largest public-facing aspect of my business, so I treat it that way,” she says. “At the end of the day, existing and potential clients are looking, which means that what I post is an example of what a client gets when they hire me.”
Keep Up the Momentum Post-Graduation
When school ends, so do deadlines. But that’s not the time to take a break. “Right out of school, I was focused on creating a path for me to continue making work as if I were still in school,” Oppermann says. For her, that meant shooting every day while backpacking for two and a half months with fellow photographer Yael Malka. She used the resulting book, Sea Blues, to pitch herself for editorial assignments. “I’m a firm believer in the idea that the work you love making is likely your best work,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot my friends’ careers accelerate as a result of a beautiful body of work being seen in a way that could translate easily to beautiful commissioned photographs.”
Another thing you’ll lose access to after graduation is the availability of thoughtful feedback about your work. Oppermann co-founded TGIF Gallery with four other Pratt graduates to create a community of photographers. “It’s super important to seek out and align yourself with people whose work you like and who you think can speak critically about yours,” she says.
Make a Multifaceted Marketing Plan
It’s best to pick more than one method for marketing your work, and keep up with it. “There are so many photographers trying to do the same thing, and hitting someone up at the right time could be the thing that puts you in the front of a person’s mind at a point when they’re looking to hire someone,” she explains.
It’s also a good idea to research photo departments that hire new photographers—magazines such as New York and The FADER are known for fostering new talent. And make your notes personal—no photo editor will be interested if they don’t think you’ve done your research on what types of projects they assign.
Oppermann’s marketing plan consists of quarterly postcards and an email newsletter that contains both commissioned and personal work. She also encourages new photographers to push themselves to network in-person, and says to bring friends if you’re shy, like she was at first. “I can’t stress enough how important it is to show up to any kind of photographer/client gatherings. This is your chance to show people that you’re smart and down to earth, and that gives people a reason to hire you.”
Eventually, with enough hard work and some projects under your belt, your work, and word of mouth, will begin to carry some of the marketing for you. Oppermann says she’s reached a point where she estimates that half of the clients that reach out to her are not clients she has directly contacted herself. “After years of working really hard at marketing, my work is beginning to do a lot of the work for me, and that’s a great feeling.”
This article was excerpted from the Spring 2017 issue of PDNedu. Read the issue for free at digitalmag.pdnedu.com