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Best of Small Biz Survival: “How a Small Town Photographer Survives in a Crowded Field”

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Posted on October 8, 2010 by admin

Posted by Becky McCray on Small Biz Survival on Monday, July 26, 2010

Reposted Courtesy of Small Biz Survival the definitive online resource for rural and smalltown business.

Photography is a crowded profession. And it’s getting squeezed to death by a glut of amateurs. When everyone can afford a “pro” camera, how can a professional photographer make a living? Mike Klemme’s answers hold some lessons for people in all types of professions being squeezed.

Mike KlemmeMike Klemme is a professional photographer from Enid, Oklahoma (population 47,000). He’s making his living at a time when the general freelance photography business is being squeezed to death in a race to the bottom. One dollar pics at iStockphoto have meant the end to the routine but profitable $300-500 stock photos Klemme used to sell over and over.

But Klemme found an answer. He built his business on the Red Adair model: be the one to call. Starting with his skills as a landscape photographer, he became the first pro photographer to specialize in golf courses. There is a ton of competition in general landscape photography. But once Klmme became the go-to-pro for golf courses, he was called on to travel the world to shoot courses from Miami Beach to Kenya.


Find a niche, fill the niche and kill the niche, Klemme said. Pick a niche without an existing specialist, one that capitalizes on your skills and abilities. Start learning all you can about it. Network, read the trade publications, meet everyone involved, know the industry players and become a guru in your specialty. Get beyond the obvious shots; develop your own perspective and your own style. Slam the door on that niche by being the absolute best.

Good photo niches are the subjects people are passionate, even crazy about. To prove his point, Klemme listed off a bunch of potential photo niches, ones where he did not know of an existing photo specialist.

  • cigars and tobacco
  • swimming pools
  • emerging destinations in travel (pick one emerging destination, and be all over it)
  • western and cowboy
  • green tech
  • rowing and boating in Oklahoma City
  • fireworks
  • architecture
  • construction
  • oil business (big business in Oklahoma)
  • Native American
  • agriculture
  • manufacturing
An audience member added another: industrial safety training. She knows because it’s her job to find photos for her company’s industrial safety training materials.

Once you have your niche, find your tribe of people who are passionate about the topic. Communicate directly with them.

Build great partnerships. Find a compatible graphic designer, and grow your work together.
Bottom line: You can survive in a crowded field by finding your own niche.

Based on Klemme’s presentation at Picture My Weekend 2010, in Alva, Oklahoma.
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