YouTube Fails to Bring Sales for Photographers


When you’re looking to sell photography services, you know you’re going to need a website — and ideally one that’s free of Flash, easy to browse and contains an impressive but select portfolio. You might also want a Facebook page, either for advertising or as a way to stay in touch with previous clients. But what about a YouTube channel? Should photographers be thinking of video-sharing as a way of showing off their talent for stills?

Certainly many photographers seem to think so. Search for “photography” on YouTube and you’ll be offered over 450,000 results covering every aspect of photography from rules for street photography to time-lapse photography of the Earth shot from the International Space Station. A large portion of those videos, though, tend to be didactic. They’re often tutorials in which one photographer explains to other photographers how to take certain kinds of images. Andy Booth, for example, is a UK-based photographer who shoots in the evenings and at most weekends. Despite holding down a full-time job in the insurance industry he might also complete a couple of paid wedding photography jobs a month, and since 2010 has uploaded more than 50 photography-related videos to YouTube.

Shooting Without a Plan

Those videos are a mixed bunch. They include a clip of the photographer unboxing his Canon 5D MKII, shooting a client in his makeshift studio and explaining water droplet photography.

“I don’t have any set rules, themes or targeted audience for the videos,” he said. “The subject/theme is usually decided by subjects that just spring to mind.”

Measured by views alone though, those random videos have been relatively successful. Altogether, Andy’s uploads have been watched over 330,000 times, with two videos picking up more than 60,000 views each. The traffic comes in largely through his Twitter account and Facebook page, a platform that also serves as Andy’s main website. Sometimes, he’ll also place a link to a new video on his Twitter stream. Mostly though, he banks on YouTube’s search engine to turn up his videos in search results and present them to interested viewers.

Ed Verosky, a professional photographer in New York, takes a similar approach to YouTube. He started uploading two years ago with the aim of sharing some behind-the-scenes footage as well as some music video work. His 23 uploaded videos, many of which are audio podcasts, have now been seen more than 111,000 times, with his most popular video an explanation of a one light portrait setup that picked up nearly 31,000 views. Like Andy Booth’s channel, the bulk of his uploads are tutorials.

“I started sharing tips and being very open about my work and how I do things,” he said. “Other photographers responded to that content and I found that I really loved teaching and inspiring other photographers to do better work.  My videos are about sharing what I know and love about photography.”

Ed aims to keep his shoots simple and casual. He even shot his first videos on a low-end cell phone or a “toy video camera.” As his videos became more complex though, so the time he needed to invest in shooting and post-production, and in learning new techniques, became greater too. Editing takes the most time now, he says, but he’s also had to learn how to do 2D and 3D animation, rendering, video lighting and audio recording and editing.

The question though is whether that investment pays off financially — and the answer is that it probably doesn’t. Neither Ed nor Andy could a recall winning a booking from someone who had first seen their YouTube videos. Ed wins most of his work from search engines, word-of-mouth, a good sales page and through his portfolio. Some clients have said that they hired him after enjoying one of his blog posts but none have mentioned his YouTube videos as the factor that led to the hire.

“Photographers, like myself, look to YouTube for entertainment and tutorials,” he says. “As for targeting potential clients, I just don’t see them looking through YouTube to find a photographer.”

Even Information Products Don’t Sell

But if YouTube is primarily used by photographers looking for an education it should be a good place to promote information products created by photographers. Even that though, doesn’t seem to be the case. Ed Verosky offers a number of guides and ebooks on different aspects of photography but doesn’t believe that any of the sales of even his educational products can be traced back to his YouTube videos.

“I’m sure the videos must help,” he says, “but I have no hard evidence of that.  I think everything helps in a cumulative way.”

The problem with video-sharing as a way of winning clients might have less to do with the videos and more to do with the sharing, particularly on YouTube. Our book The Successful Wedding Photographer contains a chapter on the benefits of video advertising in which Lan and Vu Bui, photographers who double as videographers, discuss the importance of shooting behind-the-scenes videos in which the photographer talks to the camera, relaxes and builds a connection with the viewer. It’s that connection, they argue, that can be more powerful than any other marketing technique.

The marketing though has to be aimed at the right market. If YouTube’s photographer channels are watched primarily by other photographers looking to improve their skills, they’re going to be the wrong place to upload a video aimed at potential clients. To persuade leads that you’re talented and reliable, easy to work with and capable of producing the images they need, you should be putting that video on your website, not on YouTube. And that video itself should be about you and the way you shoot, not about the viewer and the shots he or she would like to take.

YouTube can be useful for photographers. It can be a good way to teach other photographers how to take pictures, to spread your love of photography and photographic technique, and to dabble in images that move. But if you’re looking to make money out of photography — and you want to use videos to help you — watch it for the tips but shoot for the clients.

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