By Erica Bray
Anybody can take a picture, but it takes a special person to be a photographer. This is according to Katrin Eismann -- and she should know. Eismann is the chair of the MPS Digital Photography at the School of Visual Arts - New York (VSA), which is considered one of the “best art schools in the world.”
She’s worked with hundreds of photography students during her nearly 25 years as an educator of digital photography and has an eye for promising talent in the community, but notes that success as a photographer isn’t all about what you capture from behind the lens.
“If you’re a professional photographer, 80 percent of your time is dedicated to business, marketing and education,” Eismann says. “And the other 20 percent is the actual photography.”
Eismann says many students entering the school with dreams of being a professional photographer fail to recognize that there’s more to this career path than the click-click-click of the camera until they take VSA's mandatory semester on business and marketing. For many students, she says, this is an eye-opening introduction to the reality of pursuing photography as a career.
“We try to encourage the passion and the reason they’re there,” she says. “but we also emphasize that it’s pretty important that you get paid for what you do. You can’t pay rent by accepting photo credits.”
A photography instructor who grounds students in the realities of the profession, including how to market themselves effectively. (Photo courtesy of Katrin Eismann)
In addition to training future photographers in the importance of negotiating contracts, invoicing and the pros and cons of securing an agent, Eismann tells students that they have a brand-new opportunity that can help to make them more marketable in a crowded industry: the 'dot-photography' (.photography) domain.
“It is about being professional, about setting yourself apart, about being memorable," Eismann says. "Something like .photography immediately says, ‘This is what I do.’”
The domain extension is one of hundreds of new options available to those launching websites to promote their businesses and personal brands. A handful of these new options are specific to the photography community -- such as 'dot-camera' (.camera) and 'dot-photos' (.photos) -- but Eismann recommends 'dot-photography' for its professional polish.
“Those little things that set you apart that make you memorable because people -- art buyers or clients, specifically -- if they can’t find your card, your website or your contact literally within ten seconds, they’re going to move on," she adds.
One of Eismann's former photography students, Meg Laubscher, heeded this advice. She snatched up the domain meg.photography and says it's become a powerful branding tool as she launches her photography career in New York City.
"My whole life I’ve had a problem with people pronouncing Laubscher or spelling it," she says. "If they can remember my first name, Meg, and that my industry is photography, they can easily find my website."
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Meg.photography features the work of Meg Laubscher. (Photos: meg.photography)
Eismann says the domain extension also immediately identifies Laubscher's industry, for anyone who might come across her URL.
“Say Meg had meglaubscher.com ... well, great, but she could be a parsley farmer,” Eismann jokes.
While professional photographers have found new audiences and marketing opportunities across social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, Eismann says the website is still a critical component for any photography business, and that makes the URL a valuable branding tool.
"The website is a curated collection, it lets you show bodies of work and projects, it lets you include some text,” says Eismann. “People are going to find you in multiple ways, so all of your social media should push people to the website."
Plus, if you apply smart SEO strategies to the text and metadata of your photography website, she adds, you will be more easily found online. This has been the case for Laubscher. When someone types in "meg" and "photography," she is among the five five results (despite her website only being live for less than two years).
"It’s a seamless website, just my name and what I do," Laubscher says of her URL, which she credits with being more valuable than a business card. In fact, it is her business card.
For Eismann, it's great to see students such as Laubscher taking her advice and seizing this new opportunity while domain choices attached to 'dot-photography' are still abundant.
"It is about being professional, about setting yourself apart, about being memorable," she says.