Relocating is never easy, but it can be an incredible step in a photographer’s career and craft. A new city, state, or even country is a blank canvas of endless possibilities. These possibilities and the work that needs to be done to make the transition can be overwhelming, where do you even start?
Moving can be scary and intimidating, but I recommend it to any artist feeling stuck, discouraged, and bored. Whether you’re a professional with clients or a hobbyist, moving house can be an incredible experience. In my own career, just moving has a lot to do with my successes. In the last five years I’ve lived in four different cities across the country. Everywhere I’ve lived, my work, character, and business have reached wildly different stages that I can’t say I would have reached had I remained stagnant.
For me, the scariest part of moving house is not knowing anyone where I’m going. It’s extremely overwhelming to think of all the connections you’ve lived in one place for years or even your entire life, and then suddenly know very few, if any, people in a new place. After moving so many times, I finally have a process for making new connections and building a new client base that won’t take years.
Study the area and demographics of your new home
Whether you plan to acquire paid clients or just shoot for fun, studying the people in a new city makes it that much easier to have a plan for how to handle your social media and in-person interactions once you arrive. Before you move, it’s so important to study the area online and on social media to prepare yourself to quickly connect well with the community. Everything from age group, median income, and industries in the city will affect how you do new business. It’s also important to learn about the cultures of the area, different cultures and subcultures have unique areas of life that are close to their hearts and want to be photographed. Once you’ve got the basic demographic facts down, social media is an amazing way to get to know a city on a more personal level before you even set foot in it. Find out where everyone is checking in on their networks and get a feel for the types of images locals are sharing with friends and family.
When I returned to Oregon in January, I knew that the majority of people in the small town I moved to are in their 40s and older, so I knew I would focus more on personal connections than my social media would leave. Since my small coastal town doesn’t have a big fashion or modeling scene, I’ll be shooting more portraits, weddings, and other events to help pay the bills. Living in a beach town, water sports, hiking, and anything else nature-related are the norm here, so I’ll adapt my style a bit to suit your preferences. I definitely wish I had done this kind of preparation earlier in my trip, I moved first from Oregon to Georgia and then from Georgia to Kentucky without knowing very much about the cities. Going blind is definitely a bad idea, learning as much as possible about your new home and the people in it will relieve a lot of stress.
Get a head start, create a local social media presence before you move
Social media is always important to us, but it becomes even more important when you move house or even travel to a new city. If you live in one place for a while, even your whole life, you have years’ worth of people to network with. Luckily, with a little hard work, we can reestablish all of these connections fairly quickly when we move to a new city. Before you move, do everything you can to get your presence known on the location’s social media groups and connect with other hard-working and social local people. On Facebook, I try to post in every local group where I introduce myself and my work, and to send friend requests to small business owners and other promising contacts. Instagram is also important if you find that the community is using it heavily. In addition to tracking locals checking in, posting an announcement of your move with a check-in and some local hashtags will help garner some attention in the area.
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but the network I’ve found the most clients on is Tinder. Users of this app are unique because they are willing to be social and meet new people in person. Surprisingly I haven’t had a bad experience with it, people are pretty normal and just trying to connect with others, many are new to the fields too. I’ve been hired by dozens of people for photo shoots or referred to someone who did after coming across my profile. While I’m not having much luck with the app, I’m at least gaining some followers who may come back in the future. Of course, if you want to use the app to take photos, you need to make it look like this so people don’t get the wrong idea. In my bio I state that I use my account to network and provide links to my social media so they can see my work and message me outside of the app.
Be open to new things
Each city is so different from the next, which means the market and taste for photography will be too. Be ready to shoot in new styles and have a completely different client base. Once you understand the demographics of a new place and have immersed yourself in the local social media action, you can get a pretty good idea of where the money or interest is for photographers. Getting to Know It’s important to take an interest in what’s popular in the area. Luckily, wherever there are people, there are some commonalities, people are always having children, getting married, and hosting various events. If you’re relocating and feeling lost or unsure of who to market to, find these people.
When I lived in Atlanta, Georgia, nearly all of my clients were either in the thriving local film industry or entrepreneurs. I’ve done a lot of headshots, product photos and social media content for businesses. After a few years in Atlanta I moved to Louisville, Kentucky and found myself a little lost, it was smaller and none of what I enjoyed doing was needed there. It took me a handful of part-time jobs and some time to realize that if I was going to make money, I had to switch. To survive I started photographing weddings and families and supplemented with online web and graphic design. I didn’t have a lot of experience in those genres but I jumped in and am now grateful to have the experience to use anywhere.
Don’t be shy; Show up for all local social events
Social media is huge, but it only gets you to the point where you need to be social in the real world after a while. I know it’s hard talking to random people. If like me you have social anxiety, remember that you are starting fresh, you can be whatever you want in some ways, so be more confident and social than ever. People want to meet you in person, especially if you’re the new girl (or guy) on the block. Meeting the people of a new community in person creates a more immediate trust and connection that is very difficult to create on social media. They’re much more likely to engage and tell their friends about the lovely photographer they met in person than the one they quickly scrolled past on social media. Find local events online, then actually show up to mingle. They don’t necessarily have to be arts-related events either, you should try to meet people from all corners of a new community. Go to whatever you can handle because all connections are good if you don’t already know anyone. Meeting the right people when you’re new to a city is just as important as your talent.
Packing up my whole life and moving four times was incredibly risky and scary, but it changed my life as a photographer. Not only do I have several practice rounds to build my business from the ground up, new cities have forced me to be more open minded and engaging with other people and to feel confident in my ability to start a successful business in photography to maintain. I would love to hear your personal experience of moving as a photographer.