Photography: Neal Dench
With so many photographers battling for a decreasing number of sales and commissions, success depends on a photographer’s ability to stand out and offer a unique product. Usually, that comes down to a particular vision and a trademark style that when combined with talent form a photographer’s prime asset. But a distinct look isn’t the only unique selling point that a photographer can offer. Every photographer also has at least one other benefit that few other photographers can provide and which can help them to win sales and build a photography career: their location.
There are three ways in which knowledge of your area — and easy access to it — can help you to put more images in front of more people, and even earn money from them.
The first is citizen journalism. The new distribution agreement between Corbis and Demotix, a crowdsourced photojournalism service, suggests that even one of the world’s biggest photography companies understands the value that photographers who happen to be on the scene at the right time can bring to publishers. As news companies cut back on the staff they’re willing to base or send overseas, photographers who can quickly reach the site of an accident, a demonstration or a crime can cash in on their proximity to a news event.
Selling those images isn’t going to be easy. Although a number of Demotix’s citizen contributors have managed to put their images into national newspapers most submissions aren’t used, and if they aren’t used immediately, they’re probably not going to be sold at all.
Creating Your Own Local News Site
One alternative to relying on a chance need by a big Corbis or Demotix customer is to look to local news sites. The rise of hyperlocal news services such as WestportNow.com, a site created by CBS veteran and photography enthusiast Gordon F. Joseloff, has been the story of the past decade. By focusing on tiny areas usually overlooked by media companies, the sites have come to take advantage of the Web’s long tail and provide an outlet for local citizen reporters and photographers. Joseloff no longer edits WestportNow but he does still contribute images.
According to a 2006 report into citizen journalism sponsored by the Ford Foundation, however, 42 percent of local news sites said that their revenues were lower than their costs. A further 38 percent said that they didn’t know if the site was profitable, suggesting that money wasn’t the biggest incentive in establishing the service. Of those that do look for funds, 48 percent relied on advertising, 25 percent looked to community and corporate sponsors, and 16 percent relied on donors. Only 5 percent were able to depend on subscription income.
Perhaps the most telling statistic though is that 43 percent of local news sites were funded by their founders. While making it profitable might be difficult, creating a news site that services your area, is supported by advertising and to which you contribute with the help of other local photographers and reporters, is something that depends only on your willingness to invest in a domain name, a hosting fee and traffic generation.
Shooting Local Beauty
A news service will be dependent on events, and those events can be relatively uninteresting. Another way to cash in on your local knowledge is to document local beauty. It’s an approach that’s more artistic, more creative and which can even translate into a completely new business.
As a local, location scouting will be simple and convenient. You’ll already know the best places to shoot, the best times to shoot, and the hidden aspects of your area that outsiders won’t be aware of. You won’t have to pay large sums or spend a great deal of time trying to reach the destinations you want to photograph and even if the shot doesn’t work out, you’ll be able to go back and try again. Doing so would even be a pleasure.
Best of all, if you find locations near you beautiful and photogenic, there’s a good chance that others will too. That means you’ll also have a solid market in other locals looking for a new perspective on sites with which they’re familiar and of which they’re fond.
In 1981 John Fielder self-published a calendar featuring images of Colorado. The images were successful enough for him to create his own publishing company which he later sold to Big Earth Publishing. Over 28 years, he published 39 titles, including photography books, calendars and guide books, some of which were shot by other photographers, and all but half a dozen of which were about Colorado.
“I planned my projects with the intent to publish a book and most were two-year projects,” he told us. “Most of my books sold very well.”
While book publishing and even calendar publishing can be a difficult industry, it has worked for Fielder who cashed in on his passion for and knowledge of his local surroundings.
And finally, an awareness of local tastes as well as local terrain can be an asset too. When it comes to buying art, metropolitan types may have cosmopolitan tastes but smaller communities may well want subjects and styles that are familiar and even conservative.
When you’re trying to sell at an art fair matching your inventory to the public tastes will be critical, and the same will be true when you’re approaching galleries who need to be able to win sales from local buyers.
According to Susan Kirchman of the Kirchman Gallery in Johnson City, Texas, her buyers
“are looking for things they can live with. They aren’t interested in [the art] being overly edgy.”
The events that take place in a photographer’s location then can provide subjects to shoot and outlets in the form of local news sites. It can even provide revenue in the form of local advertisers willing to pay to appear on those sites. The beauty of the region can offer enough photography subjects for a lifetime of happy image-making, and the people who live in the area alongside you can be your buyers and sponsors provided you have an understanding of the kind of photography they want to see.