500px, the artistic photo-sharing platform, might just be about to launch a new revolution in stock photography. Prime, the site’s licensing arm, officially opened on April 3rd following a soft launch that started shortly after the beginning of the year. The service allows the site’s users to sell licenses for their images. Like microstock sites, anyone can upload and offer their photographs for sale. Unlike microstock however, the images are creative and artistic — and the fees and payouts are in three figures.
Ellen DeGeneres was probably overplaying Bradley Cooper’s photography skills when she called that image the “best photo ever.” But the #Oscar post that broke the record for the largest number of retweets on Twitter might also have broken another record: for the world’s most valuable image.
With over 3 million retweets, the picture, with its galaxy of megastars, was a giant advertisement for Samsung. The company’s name didn’t appear in the tweet but according to online advertising firm Kontera, the picture led to the brand receiving about 900 online mentions a minute. Samsung is believed to have paid around $20 million for five minutes’ of advertising time during the Oscar ceremony and ten sponsored celebrity selfies shot backstage. Certainly, the white Samsung Note that DeGeneres was seen holding throughout the ceremony picked up plenty of air time. (And the iPhone on which she posted her own tweets backstage somewhat less.)
Photography: Paola Colleoni
On a trip to Paris with her best friend two years ago, Nicole Smith did what everyone does on vacation. As she and her friend stood at tourist sites, she would take out her phone, hold it at arm’s length and snap a few selfies. Sometimes the pair would buttonhole a passing stranger, hand over a camera and ask the passer-by to shoot a picture of them together. Not surprisingly, the results were, she says, always “meh.” Things changed though, when a friend in the city offered to photograph them in the style of a photojournalist as they wandered through the streets. The result wasn’t just a set of images that captured the spirit of her afternoon in a way that she could never have done alone, she says, but the beginning of a whole new business idea.
Two years later Flytographer now has professional photographers available to capture shots of vacationers as they tour the sites and sip cappuccinos in romantic cafes in 70 cities around the world.
Photography: Cadence Feeley
The stock industry is about to change.
We’ve heard that before but this time the change, if it happens, will be positive, affect content rather than distribution and will give new opportunities to photographers to shoot not just more images but more interesting images.
Moving from photography enthusiast to a photography enthusiast whose pictures earn money doesn’t just take talent, skill and effort. It takes talent, skill and the right effort. Here are eight things that you need to be doing right now if you’re going to make money from your images.
1. Promote yourself on Flickr and 500px
Flickr has gone some way towards rehabilitating itself since Marissa Meyer took over Yahoo. It might face much tougher competition than when it was the only photo-sharing site on the Web but it’s still the best place to meet other enthusiasts and it’s still used by buyers and art editors looking for image ideas for their products. You’ll need to network hard, leave good comments on other peoples’ images and participate in groups but if other photographers are noticing you, buyers will notice you too.
It’s nice to get paid for an image but if you can’t get paid for an image, you can at least get praised for it. Through social media, that’s easy. Build a following, put up a great picture and watch those likes, shares, views and comments flood in.
Of course, for some photographers, accounts and timelines that’s easier than for others. These are some of the most popular images that were passed around on social media. Expect to see some quality, some surprises… and a few groans.
For a while at least, photography enthusiasts who wanted to make a little money from their photos, had it easy. Or at least they had it easier than they used to have it. Not only had the prices of professional-quality digital cameras fallen to an affordable level but at the same time, photo-sharing sites made showing those images easy, websites created a whole new demand and microstock sites popped up to deliver those images to buyers. Suddenly anyone who knew their aperture from their elbow had an opportunity to shoot pictures that made money. But Flickr is now nearly ten years old and iStock, the first microstock site, will soon enter its fifteenth year. Both are now owned by large parent companies and the ease with which either could be used to make money has fallen significantly. While there is still demand for images, the methods used to sell them and promote them has changed—and they continue to change.
For most microstock contributors, sales and profits are harder to come by. Once, contributors like Shutterstock founder Jon Oringer could get away with images as poor and as cheap to produce as these. Today, they’re more likely to be professionally shot in a studio, using paid models and high expenses. But they’re also less likely to win the sales necessary to cover the costs of producing them. With nearly 80,000 contributors on iStockPhoto and just under half that number on Shutterstock, keywords are saturated and the number of sales generated by each image has fallen. Even Yuri Arcurs, the market’s leading producer, has now signed an exclusive deal with iStockPhoto ensuring that he receives the higher rates offered by exclusivity—and the premium he would have negotiated.
That’s likely to continue. While top contributors take up exclusivity, more occasional shooters can expect to see falling revenues that only produce profits if they disregard costs.
Sure, you know all about f-stops and composition. You’ve taken classes on lighting and landscape photography. But there’s a lot you don’t know — and a long list of photography classes and workshops that you’ve never even considered.
Here are a bunch of them.
Photograph Ghosts, Ghoulies and Things That Go Bump in the Night
It’s not the quality of your images that’s stopping you from making more sales and building even a part-time photography business. It’s your fears. To get them out of the way and create the growth you deserve, you first have to identify them — then squish them. You’ll probably find at least one — and possibly five — of those fears here.
Fear of Specialization
This isn’t a fear that’s unique to photography; it applies to just about everyone entering an industry for the first time. You don’t know where the best opportunities lie. You’ve got an empty schedule book and no sales to your name. You’re afraid that stating that you specialize in one topic or one style will limit your opportunities. So you create a website that declares you’re available for any work at all. You offer portraits and weddings, seniors and baby shots. And you create a portfolio of generic images that are attractive but predictable. They have no particular style that marks them out from the competition.
Backed by Facebook, Instagram is now the main platform for shooting and sharing. With more than 130 million members, 45 million images uploaded each day and a billion daily likes spreading those photos across accounts, Instagram is the most important tool for casual snappers and photography enthusiasts who want to capture interesting scenes and show them to their friends.
But what about professionals — or at least people who want to earn like them? Is it possible for Instagram users to shoot, share and cash in on their images? It’s not easy and the numbers so far aren’t huge but there are ways to turn a photo-sharing following into a profit stream, with more on the way. We assess five of them:
1. Sell Access to Your Followers
Photography: GMB Akash
Few photographers will have started with the odds stacked so highly against them as GMB Akash. Born in Bangladesh, Akash had no access to photography galleries or darkrooms when he was growing up. There were no opportunities for him to work as an assistant to a well-known professional, learn the trade and begin to build a name for himself. The simplest image-making practiced today by any child with access to their parent’s smartphone was not a part of his childhood.
“In my surroundings and the place I brought up no one can ever thought a boy can devote himself to photography,” he recalls. “Throughout my childhood I did not have access to photographers, their work, or even a camera.”
It doesn’t matter how much talent a photography enthusiast might have, what equipment they own or how comprehensive their technical skills, there are a number of jobs that they’re just never going to land. When it comes to the biggest, the most lucrative and the most demanding photography gigs, paying clients will always turn to a professional.
They want to be able to deliver a brief to someone who understands it. They expect the photographer to arrive on time. And, most importantly, they want to know that they’re going to get back the images they need.
And they also want to work with someone they know. That’s more likely to be a professional who has the motivation and the time to build those connections. You might have a great eye and know exactly how to focus and play with light but paid jobs still go to the people who know something equally important: the people who hand out the commissions.
Photographers who want to improve their landscape photography, to pick up some new wedding photography techniques, or to learn how to shoot children are spoilt for choice. Search on Google for a “photography workshop” and you’ll get more than 67 million results. Whatever kind of photography you want to practice, from snapping models to capturing pets and creating portraits you can always find someone willing to teach it.
Search, though, for a “Photoshop workshop” on Google and you’ll get fewer than 19 million results. That might still make for a pretty big choice but it’s less than a third of the educational content aimed at teaching photography skills even though the size of the demand should be the same. Regardless of what you want to shoot, just about every kind of image and every photography specialty will require a good understanding of image editing and post-production.
One reason that Photoshop classes are so much rarer than photography classes may be that while the need may be the same, the apparent demand for the classes is lower. Learning to take pictures is fun; learning to improve the white balance or remove red-eye not so much. Sitting at a keyboard and choosing tones from a piece of software is certainly a lot less romantic than directing models or even swishing chemicals under the red light of a darkroom.
Image courtesy: Dotspin
Someone is benefitting from your Creative Commons-licensed images, and it probably isn’t you. Sure, you might get a little thrill out of knowing that you’re helping a designer with a small budget (or a blogger with no budget) to use an attractive image. And if you’re able to see your pictures in use, the validation can be a fun boost. But that’s a big ‘if’ and it’s pretty much where the benefits end. One new company, though, believes that photographers willing to give away their pictures should receive more for their efforts. Dotspin is trying to line up gifts for photographers who apply Creative Commons licenses to their pictures and give them away on social media sites.
The company has been online since the beginning of May and is still in beta. Its aim, says co-founder Gastón Paladini, is to reward photographers for their contributions to the Internet. Read the rest …
Chris McVeigh didn’t reach paid photography through any of the usual routes. He didn’t study photography, didn’t work as an assistant and he didn’t even have photography as a goal. His background was in writing for technology magazines and providing illustrations and animation for online advertising. It was only when the economic downturn left him with less demand from his regular employers, and more free time for creative experimentation, that he turned towards picture-taking. His images have since become regular additions to Gizmodo, they’re sold on RedBubble and Society6, and Lucasfilms has even put one of his photos on the front page of StarWars.com.
His success has been helped by the fact that Chris skirted around the competition for landscape photographs and wedding shoots. He produces a nearly unique set of pictures that he calls “toy photography.” He creates sets out of Lego figures and uses them to illustrate scenes.
Chris’s interest in Lego started as suddenly as his interest in photography. Like most people, Chris had left playing with plastic bricks in his childhood. Some friends, though, bought him some Star Wars Lego sets for Christmas… which he then ignored for about a year before assembling them. Read the rest …
Full time professional photographers complain about the competition from enthusiasts who don’t count their overheads. They worry about finding their next client, spend more time than they’d like on paperwork and marketing, and if they’re being honest, they’ll admit that not all jobs are equally exciting. But they still have one big advantage over enthusiasts: they get to take a lot of pictures. They get to hone their skills, they’re paid to build their experience and even if they’re not taking photos, they’re working with photography. By the time they hang up their camera for the last time, they can be confident that they’ll have had every opportunity to become as good a photographer as they’re ever going to be.
That’s not true for enthusiasts. People who work full-time and cram their picture-taking into their weekends and evenings have to battle to find the hours they need to improve their skills. There never seems to be enough time for photography tours and road trips. And as for building the kind of long-term personal projects that interest galleries and build a name as an artist, they can drag on through years of occasional weekends — if they ever start. There are things though that anyone can do — both professionals and amateurs — to keep their skills developing and to move their photography in the direction they want it to go.
Photography: Star Rush
For most photographers, the lens on a smartphone is a fun toy. It provides a way to capture a moment — a moment to which they hadn’t brought their DSLR — and it lets them share those snaps with friends and family. But it’s not a real camera. It’s not a device that they would use to shoot for a client or to create the kind of art that they’d expect to see in an exhibition or hang in a gallery. For other photographers though, an iPhone or Android is more than a telephone with some basic imaging capabilities; it’s their main tool, their go-to device for capturing landscapes, people and scenes… and the device they use to create the kinds of pictures that end up on gallery walls and win cash prizes in prestigious competitions.
Star Rush, a Seattle-based street and documentary photographer, has been shooting as a “serious hobbyist” for more than twenty years. She now focuses on mobile photography and last year founded Lys Foto, an online magazine that showcases images captured on mobile phones. Her own work has been displayed in solo exhibitions in Seattle and she’s contributed to group shows in London and Rome. Her 20-photo solo show is currently in preparation for the City of Edmonds Arts Commission in 2014. While the venues and publications that have shown her photos were not exclusive to mobile photography, all of the work was captured using an iPhone 3GS or an iPhone 5.
When Bruce Livingstone launched iStockPhoto thirteen years ago, he split the stock industry. For the first time, enthusiasts — people with no connections to the photography industry, no professional training and no experience of creating for a market — could upload their photographs and make money from their talent. The result was a revolution. While established professionals were able to continue selling through Corbis and Getty (although against greater competition), engineers like Sean Locke, one of iStockPhoto’s first contributors, were able to quit their day jobs, buy a consumer DSLR and make livings, sometimes good livings, as microstock photographers. Other enthusiasts with careers they didn’t want to leave have been able to make a bit of extra cash shooting and uploading at the weekends.
That revolution has been grinding to a halt. Multiple platforms have followed iStockPhoto but the sale of the site to Getty in 2006 for $50 million allowed it to outgrow its copycats, become the biggest microstock site on the Web — and slash commissions until they were as low as 15 percent. Yuri Arcurs, arguably the world’s most successful microstock photographer, quit iStockPhoto last year to focus on direct sales, claiming that the prices and commissions were now too low to cover the costs of production. In March, iStockPhoto expelled Sean Locke after he pointed out on his blog that the company was giving away its photographers’ images to users of Google Docs.
When it comes to telling their own story in images, photographers often struggle. While their photos and galleries may be memorable and unique their websites and portfolios are too frequently dull, derivative and, to a buyer who sees one slideshow after another, instantly forgettable. Instead of showing who they are, the websites become a collection of what they’ve shot, a series of images with no connection to the person who took them or the photographer the buyer will be booking.
According to one expert, it’s only when photographers see their websites and their portfolios not as marketing devices intended to show their skills and range but as autobiographies — as an opportunity to tell their own stories and show who they are — that they stand out and win jobs. Read the rest …
It’s not just photographers and social media fans who like Instagram; lawyers love the photo-sharing site too. After Instagram announced a badly-written change to its terms of service that would apparently have allowed the Facebook property to sell contributors’ images without compensation, the lawyers brought out their briefcases. Even though Instagram quickly took down the new terms and reverted to the old ones, the lawyers filed a class action suit alleging breach of contract. Last month, Instagram applied to have the case thrown out.
That case may not lead anywhere, and if it did, it would benefit photographers at the expense of a big company. That doesn’t always happen. Photographers, amateur as well as professional, need to be wary of being sued just as much as they need keep an eye out for big firms trampling over their legal rights.
Wedding Photographer Sued for Missed Kiss