In an effort to forge meaningful connections with potential customers, savvy photographers use every marketing advantage they can. These days that means an emphasis on digital marketing, where the tools that first spring to mind are social media stalwarts such as Instagram and Facebook. But YouTube is an increasingly popular and powerful marketing tool as well, and as visual artists, we’re the ideal audience to make use of it.
Commercial photographer and Sony Artisan Miguel Quiles uses YouTube to maximum effect, releasing videos on a weekly basis on topics from lighting to posing, general camera techniques to behind the scenes of his portrait sessions. He says one of his favorite uses for YouTube is to help sell his services by letting prospective clients see him in action and get to know him better before they meet.
“Whenever people are trying to find out about you as a photographer,” Quiles says, “they’re going to look you up. They want to know what people are saying about you. YouTube is such an easy platform to market yourself and it doesn't have to be expensive. It can be compelling. It’s beyond just showing a photo and saying here’s the pictures that I take. I can actually show the experience that someone can expect if they were shooting with me, and show a stylized type of photo shoot with clever music and good editing. All of these things make people feel a certain type of way when they watch it. If they feel good after watching that video, then you've just increased the likelihood that they're going to reach out to you and book you. And from what I've seen on my end, they'll come in to the photo shoot with a certain level of excitement that wouldn't have been there if they didn't know who I was or hadn't seen my content on YouTube.”
“There’s an instant credibility that you get,” he adds. “This has been available for photographers for a very long time, and to not take advantage of it is kind of silly. This is a platform made for us.”
Quiles does a lot of popular photography tutorials, and he says other kinds of content can be just as useful. You don’t need to achieve influencer status to make YouTube work for you.
“You don't have to have a massive audience,” he explains. “You can make it simple, you can do so many different things. You could talk about your approach to taking portraits and do a sit down interview with yourself answering these questions. You could do testimonials with your clients and upload them so when people search your name, you can see other people talking well of their experience and the work that you did. There are just so many different angles beyond doing tutorials—which I wouldn't discourage anyone from doing. From a business perspective, it doesn't make sense why 100% of photographers aren't already on YouTube. They should be.”
Quiles says there are five key elements that have helped him improve the quality of his YouTube channel and grow his audience. In fact, he’s even published a video that touches on the topic.
1. Learn To Be A Public Speaker
Toastmasters is a non-profit educational organization that helps people improve their communication capabilities by honing their public speaking skills. Quiles joined nearly a decade ago when he hoped it would help in his previous career as a corporate trainer. Little did he know how much it would soon benefit him as a photographer.
“I wanted to be good at it,” he says, “because I wanted to move up in the company.
I started going to the meetings and I fell in love with it. They have what they call their competent communicator course where you have to do a certain number of speeches, they have to be evaluated. Normally it could take people years to go through that process, but because I was so on fire to get it done I finished it within six months.”
“Part of the process to make sure that you're getting out all of your thoughts,” Quiles explains. “In the very beginning of trying to structure a speech, you write everything down. You check it for grammatical errors and things like that. And then you try to deliver it in a way that sounds conversational and natural.”
It’s the same thing on camera for a YouTube audience.
“Any time you're speaking to someone like that,” he says, “it feels like public speaking. Whether I'm doing it to a camera or I'm speaking in front of one person or a group of people. When you go through Toastmasters you start to critique yourself. Anytime you get up to speak, there are certain things that they do that are meant to help you to become a better speaker and presenter. All of that sticks with you. Going through Toastmasters not only helped me with YouTube, it also helped me throughout my career.”
2. Write A Script And Use A Teleprompter
Scripting your content can be as simple as writing a broad outline with bullet points on each topic to be covered, or a word-for-word script that you’ll read to the camera with the help of a teleprompter. The latter can be had affordably thanks to compact prompters that work in conjunction with smartphone or tablet apps. It’s Quiles’ preferred approach, but even a simple outline will provide a big improvement over the popular “just wing it” approach.
“There are only so many bells and whistles and little tricks that I can add to a video to get people's attention,” Quiles explains, “so making it short and concise is something I think about every time I make a video. When I would just get in front of the camera, hit record and start talking, I could always tell the difference versus the videos that I do now where everything is pre-planned and scripted. I deliver them a little more concisely, and they end up being six or seven minutes or less instead of 20 minutes. It has to be really compelling. People won’t sit through a long video that’s not interesting. I need to capture and keep someone’s attention.”
“I sit down and script everything out. I start off with an outline and decide on the topic: I would put five tips for people who are starting or growing a YouTube channel as the title and then ask myself, ‘What are the five tips?’ I break it down and decide what I’m going to say to introduce the first thing and then what I’m going to say about the second, third, fourth and fifth. I write all of this out and put it into the teleprompter. Using the teleprompter is great. You can read it and say it to yourself and make sure that it sounds like you would communicate it in that way. It’s that next layer that makes your video look more polished.
3. Choose Your Subjects Carefully Based On Research
When he first started creating YouTube videos, Quiles says he just chose topics of personal interest irrespective of whether there were already many unwatched videos on the topic, or if there were just a few existing videos that had high viewership totals. It’s fine to break new ground, he says, but to maximize return on time invested in your videos, research the subjects ahead of time to see what’s already out there.
“It took me a while,” he says, “because I felt that if I made this content, they would come. I was just going to show what I do. I thought a lot of people that have asked to see my process would come to my channel to watch the videos and my subscriber base, audience and reach would grow. So I created content that I was really proud of—it was beautifully shot, it was cinematic and made me look like I knew what I was doing, all of the things that you want to see in a behind the scenes video—and then I posted them thinking it was going to be great. I've seen other content that isn't shot as well, that doesn't have a professional model and the photographer didn't look as competent, and I thought mine would get better results. Those other videos might have 40- or 100-thousand views and then my video might get a 1,000 or 800. And I was thinking, ‘I don't understand! How is it possible that this video is so good and no one is watching it?’”
At that time, Quiles didn’t really have an understanding of what people wanted to watch. He’s now learned that when you research what’s out there related to the topic you’re interested in, you start to gain a better picture of what people want to see. He also recommends using apps such as TubeBuddy (tubebuddy.com) and vidIQ (vidiq.com) which offer the ability to access insights and information about what, when and how long people are viewing your content, as well as any social media engagement they may garner and more.
“Some of these research tools that are out there for YouTubers,” he explains, “when you search for a term, it tells you what the search volume is. And it tells you what the competition is for a certain keyword or phrase. So when I search for the title of a video, I can see that there's a high search volume and there's a low competition score, which means if my video is good it could gain traction and hopefully get shared and boosted by YouTube and other photographers.”
“It's a very strategic thing,” Quiles adds. “It definitely changed the way that I go about creating content. And I would say it’s the thing that really pushed my numbers forward. My content didn't get better, yet my worst videos nowadays do better than my best did before. It’s definitely weird, but it's true. Research your topics and make sure that whatever it is that you're talking about is something that people actually care about.”
4. Make An Engaging Thumbnail
Browse any collection of high-value, popular videos and you’ll notice they all share a few things in common, and one of them is interesting and engaging thumbnails, frequently with text. Quiles says these thumbnails are crucial to draw viewers in and should definitely not be left to chance.
“When you upload a video,” he says, “YouTube will just pull three random frames it automatically uploads as a thumbnail. When I started, I would just upload the video, it would create a thumbnail, and I was pretty much done. Sometimes it would have the one frame where you got your eyes closed so I’d go back and change it to one of the other three frames, but that was about it.”
“It's the most basic thing,” Quiles continues, “but everybody overlooks it. When you are scrolling through the homepage or you're scrolling through the search results, the first thing they see to identify whether they want to watch your video or not is the thumbnail—and it takes up the most real estate on the screen—and then there’s the title. If your title isn’t good and your thumbnail is weak, chances are they're not even going to click on your video. The content might be the most cinematic, the most beautiful, the most entertaining, prize-winning content, but if the thumbnail and title are a miss, no one is going to click on it and open it.”
Quiles suggests using a compelling image paired with explanatory text. He’s had success with “before and after” style split-screen thumbnails, and he’s not above using a tantalizing headline. Ultimately, he says, this thumbnail is like the trailer for your movie.
“That was another one of the big things that really boosted my channel and grew my audience,” he says. “Taking it a step further, when you research the topics and find videos that are in the hundreds of thousands or millions of views, you start to notice trends with the thumbnails and titles. The thumbnails are formatted a certain way – it's part of the strategy to grow an audience. Ask yourself if your thumbnail is compelling and if it makes you want to click on it when you see it. If the answer is no, look at what works for other people. Your solution could be as simple as gaining inspiration.”
5. Keep The Content Flowing
Quiles says you can study the metrics on your existing videos to determine the time of day and day of the week that you get the most views, then release videos strategically to cater to viewers who are ready and waiting. More important, though, is not trying to do too much too quickly. It’s better to release one video per week for five weeks than five daily videos followed by a month-long break.
“I have a lot of friends who create content for YouTube,” he says, “and I've seen where people have shot eight videos that they release in a week. Maybe you can keep that up for a while because you've got a lot of great ideas, but eventually you're going to hit a wall where you've burned yourself out.”
“Instead, if I make weeks of content,” Quiles says. “I can upload it and schedule it so that if I want to take a week off to just get my mind right or take a month off, I can renew myself spiritually, mentally, and then apply myself later when I'm in the right mindset and create new concepts. Meanwhile there are regular releases on my channel and it’s continuing to grow, continuing to get views.”
“I think if a person has a lot of creativity,” he continues, “they've got a lot of ideas, there's nothing wrong with shooting it once a week or even twice a week and building up a library of content so that then they can strategize more. That gives you time to think about it and create compelling thumbnails and titles for SEO. Being able to strategize like that keeps you from wasting your time which is probably the worst thing for any creator. You've put all this time, effort and knowledge into a video and then you post it and no one watches it. At the beginning, that's what's going to happen unless you do some of these other things to grow your channel.”
About the author:
William Sawalich made his first darkroom print at age ten. He earned a Master's Degree from The Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California. Along with portraiture, still life and assignment photography, Sawalich is an avid writer. He has written hundreds of equipment reviews, how-to articles and profiles of world-class photographers. He heads up the photo department at Barlow Productions in St. Louis.