It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer that makes the picture. That’s what photographers are always told — and what the successful ones always say — and it’s particularly true for anyone trying to take pictures on an iPhone. Although the latest model, with its new optics and 8 megapixel lens is a big improvement on older versions, it’s still far from a professional tool capable of shooting the sorts of images that buyers need. And yet, iPhone photos are selling. While there are no figures that reveal the number of iPhone images that have been bought and sold, some iPhone-wielding photography enthusiasts have earned several thousand dollars from their pictures and the total value is now likely to have exceeded seven figures. Here are five ways that iPhone pictures have sold for real money:
The iPhone camera’s biggest advantage for photographer is its mobility. When something happens, you’re more likely be carrying your mobile phone than your Nikon DSLR. It’s no surprise then that one of the hottest-selling types of iPhone images are news shots.
Finnish company Scoopshot specializes in images taken on mobile phones and even has an app that lets photographers send their shots directly from their iPhones to the Scoopshot marketplace. The site says that it has made almost €135,000 selling images to 42 different publications.
The shots aren’t as dramatic as the snaps taken recently (on a Blackberry) of the bombing near the Israeli embassy in Delhi and sold worldwide through the Associated Press. Images that Scoopshot has sold include shots of someone driving the wrong way up a street and a traffic jam caused by broken traffic lights. More exciting was the series of images that appeared recently in the Danish press that showed a fire engulfing a building in Denmark.
If you’re near the news, the event can compensate for the quality of the camera.
It’s one thing to whip out your iPhone when a fire breaks out on your street. It’s another thing altogether when a professional photographer is hired to complete a shoot for a magazine and finds that one of the images the publication buys is a quick shot taken on his mobile device. That’s what happened when photographer Craig Mitchelldyer was sent by Oregon Business magazine to shoot a story about a snowy summer camp. After carrying his equipment onto the ski lift and up the slopes, one of the images that appeared in the publication showed the teenagers preparing to snowboard down the mountain with the clouds below them.
That shot, says Mitchdyer, was taken on his iPhone as soon he got off the lift.
“It’s my favorite image from the shoot,” he wrote on his site. “Also the first time I’ve had an iPhone photo published.”
It might not be Mitchelldyer’s last iPhone photo he sells though. Photographer Dave Kozlowski has been selling iPhone photos for two years. This year, he says he sold more images taken on his mobile phone than photos shot with his Nikon, including a series of seventeen images that went for $6,000 and were used during the renovation of a Dallas hotel.
“My clients love this stuff (Hipstamatic)!” he told the readers of photographer and technologist Aaron Hockley’s blog. “I think I’m probably the first photographer to shoot a project for a major national brand using only my iPhone.”
It’s notable though that while Kozlowski is willing to sell his iPhone images to happy clients, he’s not willing to tell them he shot them on an iPhone. And if the camera really doesn’t matter, he shouldn’t have to.
The hardest market for any photographer to break is the print market. The competition is so intense, there’s such a huge choice of beautiful images and so little demand for items to decorate wall space that it’s no wonder prices can be so low and sites can be so saturated. And yet, even in this market, it’s still possible to make the odd sale. Aaron Hockley was writing about iPhones because he’d sold a print of a shot he’d taken of a forest fire on his iPhone to a friend. He didn’t mention the price, although you’d have to hope that his friend at least received a discount.
While that was the only time that Hockley had sold an iPhone image, it wasn’t the first time that he’d used his iPhone professionally. Instagram on his mobile phone is go-to app for posting quick images, he reports, and he often uses his telephone to take pictures when scouting shots. That’s a more familiar professional use of the iPhone. The idea that he could actually print those pictures and sell them shows that the kind of opportunistic images that are more likely to find their way into publications can also find their way onto walls — if they’re taken beautifully enough.
And it turns out the most beautiful iPhone images have a market all of their own. In December 2009, artist Knox Bronson suggested that Rae Douglass of the Giorgi Gallery in Berkeley hold the first ever gallery exhibit of iPhone photography. The exhibition was a huge success and has since grown into Pixels, a collection of “iPhonographic art.” All submissions have to be shot and edited entirely on an iOS device, including iPads, iPhone models and iPod Touches. The range of the work is phenomenal with delicate shots of leaves appearing alongside old-style country images and Hockney-style (no Apple slouch himself) poolside photos.
Although the images are shown on the site for free (and, oddly, are even printed in the site’s book without a royalty), that Magcloud book sells for $40 and any prints sold through the gallery generate 50 percent of the sales price for the artist.
It’s unlikely that Pixel’s “iphonographers” have made a great deal of income with their iOS-only art shots but they are making some. The question they’re asking isn’t whether it’s the camera that makes the picture but whether it’s photographer or their Hipstamatic app.