The toughest challenge for photography enthusiasts isn’t shooting beautiful pictures or improving skills. Those things are always tough, but they’re the reason we reach for our cameras.
It’s finding the buyers. That’s something that requires knowledge and skill, and worst of all, time – time that could be much more enjoyably spent shooting.
And the reason it’s tough is that few photography enthusiasts know any buyers. Photographers tend to hang out with other photographers not photo editors, gallery owners or collectors. And that’s if they hang out with picture types at all. More likely, they’re going to be spending time with old friends and colleagues, people with no connection to photography and little apparent need for your photos.
In fact though, those connections can bring in paid work. Many event photographers begin their careers with an invitation to bring their camera to a friend’s wedding, and recommendations from friends to their friends have been known to launch the businesses of children and pet photographers.
But perhaps the biggest untapped opportunity for photography enthusiasts lies in their colleagues. Microstock, after all, was created to supply the image needs of small firms, the kind of companies that need images for their marketing and publicity material but which don’t have the budgets that make a subscription to Getty worthwhile. According to Oleg Tscheltzoff, founder of Fotolia, each small or medium-sized business needs around 50 images a year for their newsletters, websites, blogs and marketing material.
Decorate the Office Walls with your Photos
If those firms can source their photos from employees with an eye for an image instead of from merchants, they’ll be able to pick up some customized photography while giving the employee a chance to get his photos seen, cement his place in the company and perhaps land himself a nice bonus too.
Andreas Reinhold, for example, is an engineer who shoots car photography in his spare time, selling his photos occasionally to specialist magazines. He has also presented framed prints to his firm which hangs them on the office walls and leaves a copy of his photo book in the reception area so that clients can flick through it while they wait. Although neither of those methods brings him direct revenue, they do promote his photography for little cost, give him a unique role in the company and they put his photographs in front of people.
Some companies though have relatively large and consistent image needs and that presents a whole new opportunity, one that some organizations are meeting in very special ways.
The BBC’s picture editors, for example, have to find images to illustrate 3,000 hours of broadcasting every week. Some of that imagery is sourced by commissioning professional photographers, some photos come from the organization’s archive and photo agencies supply some of the pictures too.
The BBC Asks Employees to be Photographers
Since October 2008 though, the BBC has been using a Flickr group to allow the organization’s employees to submit images to be used on the iPlayer and programme sites. Only about 100 photos have been uploaded by the group’s 86 members in that time but some of them have then been used on the BBC homepage, putting pictures shot by amateurs in front of millions of people.
“The BBC still has an ongoing commitment to commissioning professional photographers to illustrate its output and that will never change,” explained Ashley Stewart-Noble, the BBC’s Senior Content producer who manages the organization’s central team of picture editors and is the group’s administrator.“However, digital cameras and the internet have created a new generation of amateur photographers and the Flickr group is one way for us to enhance our professional offering and give people the chance to engage with the BBC.”
That chance is limited to members of the BBC though, at least as far as the Flickr group is concerned. Ashley runs the group by himself and the number of images submitted would be unmanageable if he opened it to the public, he indicated. More importantly though, the BBC has to be certain that the photos it uses belong to the person who submitted it and do not breach copyright. The group’s members then, have to supply their real names so that they can be reached easily if a copyright issue does crop up.
Nonetheless, Ashley says he does sometimes use photos sent in by members of the public.
“BBC News has an established history of encouraging users to submit their photos for the site. Everyone who does agrees to their terms (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/2780295.stm#yourpics) which cover copyright concerns. I sometimes use these images to illustrate promotions on the bbc.co.uk homepage,” he says.
The attraction of Flickr to a content manager like Ashley is likely to be the ease with which he can issue calls for particular images (such as this one for photos of Clapham, London) and reach contributors he would otherwise have difficulty contacting, and the fact that he is able to review submissions quickly. It’s among the reasons that companies like Ford run photography contests through the site instead of using their own.
But a group like this also presents a model that other companies can follow. A photography enthusiast working at a software firm for example, might suggest that their company’s art director use a Flickr group as one way to source the images that they use, creating a channel through which the employees can supply their own photos. To encourage participation, contributors could be given credit (which the BBC’s group doesn’t supply) and perhaps a bonus for each image used too.
You might not want to administrate the group yourself but suggesting that the company should create one would show that you’re looking to help the company and provide an outlet for your images and impressive content for your portfolio.
Your friends might not be collectors and your colleagues may be teachers or programmers rather than art buyers or editors, but if someone in your workplace needs pictures, then there are ways to put your images in their hands.