With billions of images posted on social media channels every day – yes, billions every day – it's increasingly difficult to stand out. To attract attention in a crowded digital landscape, professional photographers are venturing into the world of video, not just as a potential service but also as a marketing tool.
There are a wealth of ways to market your business through video, from social-media-friendly snippets through to live streams and YouTube tutorials. Here, Canon Ambassador Gil Gropengiesser, one half of German wedding photography duo Julia & Gil, shares their successful social media strategy, while UK entrepreneur, photographer and videographer Simeon Quarrie explains how putting himself in front of the camera altered the course of his career.
You might think it's a waste of time and resources shooting and uploading material because your clients just aren't the type of people who consume videos on social media. While it's true that younger audiences consume the most videos, market research firm Global Web Index found that 83% of internet users aged 55 to 64 have watched a video clip online in the past month, suggesting that video content crosses demographics and engages a variety of audiences.
Online video usage has been growing year on year, and, according to a trend forecast from the technology firm Cisco, video could account for more than 80% of all web traffic by 2021.
It's easy to see why video can be effective as a marketing tool: it can offer potential clients both easy-to-digest information and an insight into your work and personality. If you want to make money out of photography, argues Gil Gropengiesser, you can't avoid this kind of personal branding. "Actually taking photos is the smallest part of the job," he says. "Every day we try to work on branding, our website, social media and connecting with people. If you're just working on your craft, it's very hard to get seen, get booked and make a living from photography."
German-based Julia & Gil travel the world photographing weddings. Video has become a significant part of their work, not only in terms of the videos they shoot for clients, but increasingly as a promotional tool.
"Videos get more attention," says Gil. "When you scroll through your feed and see a photo, you get the message in a second, but when a video begins to play, you stay for longer to find out what it's about."
While they spend up to six weeks working on a wedding video, they try to upload a one-minute trailer for their 14,000 Instagram followers within two days. "It gives a taste of what the wedding was about, a feeling for what happened. Guests share it like crazy, and it's the perfect promotion for us," he says.
According to Global Web Index, digital consumers spend an average of 2 hours 22 minutes on social media and messaging every day, and more than four in 10 use social networks to research new brands or products. This means a strong social presence should be a core part of your marketing strategy. "About 80% of our enquiries come from clients who found us on Instagram, so it's a huge source of work for us," says Gil. "We spend a lot of time on social media every day."
Any social content should be well thought out, says the founder of content agency Vivida, Simeon Quarrie, who has 33,000 followers on Instagram. "People sometimes make the mistake, myself included, of thinking that social media activity is useful in itself. But you've got to think about who your audience is and which channels are most important for your business objectives. At the moment, I'm putting effort into LinkedIn, because video content is really starting to take hold there and it gets me in front of the right people."
Julia & Gil also tailor their videos to their audience. While Facebook has most users, YouTube has more weekly visitors, so it remains a strong platform for video content. Julia & Gil use their YouTube channel to vlog about photography and offer industry advice.
"We try not to just throw videos out to the world; we follow and connect with people, 'like' posts, and comment on other people's videos," says Gil. "We have a rather special client base – creatives and photographers – so we try to be active on the platforms where they spend their time, which is YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest."
Julia & Gil shoot their promotional content on a range of Canon cameras, from the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which they both use for weddings – "the perfect camera to switch between producing high-quality videos and photos" – to the full-frame, mirrorless Canon EOS R, which they use when travelling. But for the majority of their vlogs, they use the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark II – the latest version of which is the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III.
"When we don't want to carry a large camera over our shoulders, we use the PowerShot G7 X Mark II, which is so tiny it fits in your pocket," says Gil. "It's powerful and has stabilised video, so, in recent years, we've used it to create all of our personal videos and vlogs for YouTube and Instagram's IGTV."
According to Global Web Index research, 50% of social video viewers have watched a tutorial on YouTube in the past month and 35% a video or advert made by a brand, making this kind of content a huge driver for brand engagement.
"One of the most important decisions I made at a very early stage was to turn the camera on myself," says Simeon, who was working as a wedding photographer when he decided to self-shoot a short explainer video for his website, introducing himself and his process to potential clients.
"As creatives, our focus a lot of the time is on what happens in front of the camera, but people want to understand the person behind the camera," he says. "People felt much more comfortable with me because they felt like they'd already met me – the brand became more personable."
Realising he was on to a good thing, he followed up with a series of behind-the-scenes films showing how he photographs a bride and groom's day. "People buy into people, and they're trying to work out if we will get on. Clients would ring up and reference videos of shoots they'd seen."
As well as boosting his success with potential clients, Simeon's talking-head videos have found an audience among fellow pros and other brands. "My reputation grew within the industry, so producing videos has had a big effect on the business," Simeon continues. As he moved from weddings into commercial photography, videography and VR, his content has shifted to the equivalent of thought leadership in the space of photography and filmmaking.
Simeon uses the same equipment for social media videos as for professional jobs, self-shooting his YouTube content on a Canon EOS C200 in MP4 format, and relying on its autofocus capabilities. "MP4 files are good for distribution as they look great straight out of the camera, so you don't even need to colour grade them," he says. "And you can send the files directly from the camera to a mobile device. I want a good look – nice production values, a bit of blurry depth of field but with my face still in focus – for as little work as possible."
Simeon often teams his EOS C200 with Canon cinema lenses, such as the CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S, but he also uses EF lenses such as the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM (now succeeded by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM) or the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. "The Canon glass has a particular look, which is what I want," he explains. "And the EOS C200's Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology means I get really quick and responsive autofocus. For me, the standard of the content reflects my brand, which is why even personal content has to meet certain production levels, whether it be for YouTube, Instagram or LinkedIn."
As well as hosting tutorials, social media platforms now offer tools such as Instagram Stories and Facebook Live that enable you to showcase your personality. Global Web Index's latest report found that 28% of global Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter users outside of China have engaged with live streams in the past month. Cisco's forecasts predict this type of live video will account for 13% of traffic by 2021.
Real-time content builds trust in your brand by offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of your daily life, bringing you closer to your viewers. "It can be where we're currently working, or a walk through a city," says Gil. "You share portfolio images on your feed, but personal stuff on Instagram Stories. It doesn't have to look perfect, which is the good thing. You have to be perfect on your feed and portfolio, but Stories are about personality and that can be anything."
Sharing snapshots and anecdotes that reveal just enough to give your followers an idea of who you are (not truly private moments) also helps to attract the right clients, says Gil. "We try to reach the clients that allow us to be ourselves, who fit our personalities. If we share our values and what we like and do, it's easier for people to recognise if we might be a good fit."
What's more, this kind of personal content is unlimited, adds Simeon. "The reality for some of us is that we're not creating enough to share as regularly as we need to. Or maybe our work is under NDA, so we can't show what we're doing. But the story behind the story is yours. I look at anything that can help to improve my conversion rate, so if it helps for people to understand my personality, that's what I'm going to do."
As for nerves about getting in front of the camera? "You get over that," Simeon says. "Or you can think creatively and do it without being on-camera yourself. Self-confidence builds over time. Also, we're expecting other people to be comfortable in front of our camera, but they feel that anxiety, so it's good to learn what it's like for the people we photograph."