It’s never easy to swap a perfectly good salary for the much riskier life of a freelance photographer. It’s even harder when the job you’re ditching is as stable and in demand as a systems analyst — and the kind of photography you’re moving into is as challenging and unpredictable as freelance travel photography. And yet that’s exactly what UK-born tech worker and camera enthusiast Gavin Gough did. Now based in Bangkok, Gavin divides his time between assignment photography, stock photography and teaching. His work has appeared in National Geographic, Geo, Vogue, The New York Times and The Guardian. His stock images have appeared on postage stamps, magazine covers and billboards, and he has been commissioned by clients as large as Sony, Vanity Fair and the Vietnamese Tourist Board. In short, he gets paid to travel around Asia, talk to locals and take beautiful pictures.
The desire to move from keen amateur to rising professional developed over a long period. Like many photographers, Gavin had first played around with photography as a child, took pictures in his spare time and attempted to study the work of professionals to understand both what made a photograph work and the sort of work that photography users were willing to buy. In the days before stock sites and online inventories, Gavin would call stock libraries and pretend to be a potential buyer so that he could look through their catalogues for ideas and examples.
“In those days stock library catalogues were big, beautifully produced books containing thousands of images,” Gavin recalls. “They were a wonderful source of inspiration and information. I studied them in order to learn what images would sell and to gain an appreciation for the style of travel photography the editors might be interested in.”
Any successful business will have a steady stream of customers but the best businesses also shake things up by using promotions. Sales, contests and giveaways open new channels and attract customers who might otherwise have gone elsewhere. That’s as true for photography businesses as it is for high street retailers and supermarkets. Here are three kinds of promotions that work for people making money from photography.
Reward New Clients, Not Referrals
Referrals make up a big part of any photography business with some studios saying that all of their new customers arrive through word of mouth. Persuading those customers to pass on those words to their friends though can take a bit of effort.
In February 2005, photographer Sandy Puc’ received a call from Cheryl and Mike Haggard. The couple wanted her to photograph their baby. Maddux had been born with myotubular myopathy, a condition that prevented him from breathing, swallowing or moving on his own. Then six days old, the child was about to be removed from life support and the couple wanted a family portrait to remember the time they had been able to spend with their son. Sandy rearranged her schedule and photographed the family both while the child was on life support and afterwards, when he was free of the tubes and equipment to which he had been attached since birth.
Sandy gave the pictures to the family for free. Shortly afterwards she received another call from Cheryl who so valued the images that she wanted to start a nonprofit to help other families in the same situation. By April, they had formed Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, a charity dedicated to providing free remembrance photography to families suffering the loss of a baby. In the seven years since then, around 25,000 families across the United States and in 35 countries around the world have been served by the organization’s network of photographers. The organization has been supported by more than 10,000 photographers and some 2,700 volunteers are active in the network now. All are volunteers who either own their own photography studios or have full-time jobs and families.
When Marissa Mayer took over as CEO of Yahoo, “the internet” responded with an appeal to “Please make Flickr awesome again.” The Yahoo-owned photo-sharing site was seen as having lost its way, leaving mobile to Instagram and photo showcasing to 500px. That might be about to change. Earlier this month Yahoo announced the promotion of Adam Cahan to Senior Vice President of Emerging Products and Technology, a big title that includes responsibility for mobile, enabled screens… and also Flickr. But Cahan isn’t just the tech-savvy founder of IntoNow, a start-up that Yahoo bought for between $20 million and $30 million. He’s also a former wildlife photographer for National Geographic who has contributed to Emmy award-winning nature shows. With a one-time professional photographer and full-time tech geek now in charge of what was once the Internet’s most important photo-sharing service, image-makers who want to make money from their shots should really be giving it another look.
They might well find what many professional photographer have long known: that Flickr can still deliver sales to photographers with the right images and the knowledge to reach buyers.
Chris Nuzzaco is one of those photographers. A former videographer and director of photography who shot occasionally, he switched disciplines in 2008 when the recession dried up orders and he realized that photographers had better working conditions, options and control. Read the rest …
Your ability to make money as a photographer doesn’t just depend on the kit in your bag or the quality of your eye. It’s also connected to the choice of images you shoot. Some subjects will always pay more than others — sometimes a lot more.
Here are the most valuable subjects in photography, and how you can build a path to shooting them and selling them.
In the last few years, we’ve seen photographers push unique sales points by offering reportage wedding photography that drops the formals for shots taken on the run, and Trash the Dress photography that gives brides a chance to let their hair down and soak their gown. Kevin Mullins, a British photographer working in Wiltshire, UK, takes a relatively unusual approach: he offers reportage wedding photography shot entirely in black and white.
Mullins has only been a full-time professional photographer since 2009 shortly after a move from London forced him to look for a new job. He’d been dabbling with photography for a few years and after receiving compliments on his work decided to turn his art into a business. Read the rest …
Photography is an expensive hobby, and it’s not just the lenses and the lighting gear that will empty your bank account. Take a day to drive to the sea, to the woods, to an abandoned building or to a city to load up on images and you’ll have to pay for the gas, the time, the food and in some cases even access to the site. How much you’ll pay will depend on where you’re going, how far you’re traveling and what you plan to do when you get there. But with gas prices now well over $4 a gallon in some states, even a quick 50-mile drive and back will start you nearly $15 in the hole. Bring a model for several hours of shooting in a prime location, and you’re looking at costs per image that quickly run into hundreds of dollars. If you’re shooting for cash, you’ll need to factor those expenses into the price. If you’re photographing for fun rather than profit, those are big bills to absorb. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to bring some of that money back.
Pitch a Magazine… Like National Geographic
The ideal photo trip is made with a buyer already lined up. In the best case, you’ll have received a call from a client you’ve worked with before who needs some unique shots made from a particular location. That can happen. Scott Leggo, an Australian landscape photographer, combines trips to national parks to create images for stock and prints with industrial commissions to locations that are no less attractive. His photo trips have included summer visits to alpine regions to scout for places to shoot after the snow falls, and commissions for a new air charter company to shoot floatplanes ferrying tourists to Tasmania. For those commissioned jobs, Leggo is able to estimate the entire cost of journey and submit an expenses chit to the client.
It’s a cold frosty evening on the open mud flats of Boundary Bay, Canada, and bird photographer Lorenzo Rohani is quietly adjusting his camera to capture a Snowy Owl perched fifteen meters in front of him. The birds are rare this far south of the arctic and Lorenzo isn’t alone. A dozen professional wildlife photographers have also gathered nearby, their giant lenses topped by powerful flashes primed to chase away the late shadows. Lorenzo’s plan is simpler. He’ll wait, knee-deep in the wetlands, for the sun to sink below the horizon. Only then, he knows, will the dying natural light cast the owl in a beautiful orange glow. It’s the sort of knowledge that you might expect from a seasoned pro, and the photo his patience produces wins a photography contest run by Time Magazine. But the contest is organized by Time for Kids — and Lorenzo is still only twelve years old.
Lorenzo began his passion for photography three years ago, taking pictures of the birds that visited his yard in the Pacific Northwest. Within a short time, he had been able to document 42 different species, his desire to photograph them inspired as much by his concern for the local wildlife as the beauty of their images. Read the rest …
With photography stock dominated by two exclusive agencies and microstock so saturated that sales figures rarely now cover the cost of an image’s production, photographers hoping to sell licenses need new ways of delivering photos to buyers. For many, and particularly for part-time photographers who might once have been drawn to iStock or Fotolia, that means selling licenses directly from their own website — and overcoming the challenge of finding buyers, quoting prices and handing over the images.
Klaus Herrmann, for example, used to be a computer scientist. Over the last couple of years, he’s made a name for himself as an amateur photographer, offering advice to other enthusiasts exploring High Dynamic Range photography. Earlier this year, he began the process of building a new career in image-making and teaching. Read the rest …
Breaking into the photography market should be simple: photo editors at magazines, art buyers at ad firms, designers at marketing firms all need images. If you can shoot a beautiful picture that meets one of their needs all you have to do is swap permission to use your photo for a nice, fat check. The only thing that photographers really need to know about image buyers is that they need good quality shots that they can put in ads, at the top of articles and in brochures; the rest is detail. At least three of those details though are vital. They might not be as important as the image itself but they are powerful enough to kill off what should be a lucrative picture sale. Professional photographers know them — and it’s that knowledge as much as the quality of their photography that marks them as professionals, wins them sales and leads to commissions.
Buyers Want to Purchase Fast
Two platforms have democratized the photography market more than any other: Flickr and iStock. Only one of those platforms though has developed into a successful business model with a turnover of sales worth millions of dollars and an inventory so huge it’s suffering from saturation. The best images at Flickr might be more interesting and more varied than the most commercial shots on a microstock site but they’re so hard to find and so hard to buy that it’s Getty’s subsidiary that’s attracting the buyers.
The car might have beaten the train as America’s vehicle of choice but when it comes to photography, it’s hard to beat the allure of an old locomotive. Whether it’s the appeal of giant pistons and wheels, a fascination with engineering, the experience worn into the hands and faces of railroad workers or the vanishing point created by parallel tracks that have sent every photography student ever to their nearest level crossing, there’s something particularly photogenic about the engines that built America. There are no figures that show the popularity of railroad photography but Trains, the country’s most popular railroad magazine, is holding steady even as other print magazines struggle. RailPictures.net, a community site dedicated to pictures of trains and tracks, now contains more than 367,000 railroad images, and when twenty specially painted “heritage” locomotives were put on display in Spencer, North Carolina in July, around 4,000 photographers turned up to shoot them.
The Center for Railroad Photography & Art was founded 15 years ago to interpret the connection between railroad art and American history and culture. The center organizes traveling exhibitions, holds an annual conference and maintains a collection of railroad visual media. Its current project is an exhibition of World War II-era portraits of railroad workers from the Chicago area called “Faces of Chicago’s Railroad Community: Photographs by Jack Delano.” The exhibition will be held at the Chicago History Museum from late October to early January. Read the rest …
Once you’ve developed your talent, honed your skills, loaded up on the equipment and filled a hard drive or two with folders full of beautiful, well-shot images, you’ll be ready to start putting your pictures in the market. But the market might not be ready for you. Whichever branch of photography you want to focus on and whatever kind of images you want to shoot, you should always expect to have to wait between making your pictures or skills available for sale, and actually seeing that first check.
Microstock appears to be the easiest market to break into. To offer images through sites like iStock and Fotolia, you won’t need to build a website or do any marketing yourself. You’ll just have to register, upload your images and wait for them to be approved, a process that won’t take more than a few days.
There are lots of ways to bring clients into a photography business but ask an established photographer where they get most of their orders and the answer is often referrals. It’s not unusual for as much as 90 percent of a wedding photographer’s bookings to come from couples they’ve photographed in the past, with the remainder usually coming from Web searches. That may come as a surprise for many new photographers though. Instead of seeing their income snowball naturally as happy clients pass on their name to their friends, new professionals can often find themselves struggling to win work even though they’re certain their clients are satisfied with the results. The problem isn’t the photography, and it isn’t the clients. It’s the studio’s referral program and the poor choice of incentives that the photographer is using to encourage word-of-mouth marketing
That was the experience of Leah Remillet of Go 4 Pro Photos. A children and family photographer who describes herself as “an entrepreneur at heart” she launched her photography business in 2008 and within a year was averaging sales of $2,000 a time. What she wasn’t doing though was winning recommendations that translated into new bookings.
“I knew I truly was creating a great experience, and I knew my clients loved me, but the numbers showed that something was broken. Because — despite their raving reviews and their claims that they were telling all of their friends — my bookings weren’t coming from referrals.”
One of the more surprising results in Photoshelter’s Buyer Survey was the number of buyers who reported looking for new photographers in their mailboxes. No less than 44 percent of the survey’s respondents said that they turned to email pitches they’ve received from photographers when they’re looking for someone to commission. That’s the same percentage that use agents and agencies, and a method that came second only to asking a colleague for a personal recommendation. It is a figure, though, that might have been skewed by the survey pool. Photoshelter teamed up with AgencyAccess to query photo buyers, a marketing company that supplies promotional services, including email marketing, to photographers, illustrators and other creative workers. But the willingness of the respondents to receive unsolicited pitches is revealing about a promotional strategy that many photographers choose to ignore.
AgencyAccess is used by about 1,600 photographers who are able to build targeted lists of around 90,000 potential clients, including 16,000 art buyers. Most of those photographers are established full-timers although some are “‘new’ or up-and-coming professionals.” They work in fields that range from lifestyle and food to fashion and editorial. The company supplies photographers with a variety of services that start with the ability to draw up a list of potential buyers, such as magazine editors and ad agency art buyers who work in a particular field or in a particular region, and send them a marketing pitch. But photographers can also manage their entire email campaign through the site, purchase design services, hire a campaign manager and put together a direct marketing mail campaign as well.
The results are fairly typical, and perhaps even a little low, for email marketing. According to Christine Andrews of Agency Access, photographers who send email pitches to buyers on the company’s lists can expect their messages to receive open rates of between 15 and 20 percent, and clickthrough rates of between 3 and 5 percent. That compares to open rate averages across different industries of 24.8 percent at the end of 2011 and click rates of 5.2 percent.
Photography enthusiasts starting to earn money from their images eventually find themselves facing a difficult dilemma. They have to decide whether they should give up a day job that gives them a steady income in favor of a freelance career in which they have to scrabble for commissions. It’s a choice between work they might barely tolerate and a lifetime creating images that make them proud and which others love, between a reliable salary and the risk of hand-to-mouth budgeting. But it’s a choice they might not have to make completely. As stock prices have fallen and art budgets have largely frozen at best, it’s become increasingly difficult to make a living as a photographer. At the same time though, digital technology has made life as a freelancer much easier in a range of different fields. Giving up the day job to become a professional freelance photographer no longer has to mean relying on income from photography alone.
When you’re looking to sell photography services, you know you’re going to need a website — and ideally one that’s free of Flash, easy to browse and contains an impressive but select portfolio. You might also want a Facebook page, either for advertising or as a way to stay in touch with previous clients. But what about a YouTube channel? Should photographers be thinking of video-sharing as a way of showing off their talent for stills?
Certainly many photographers seem to think so. Search for “photography” on YouTube and you’ll be offered over 450,000 results covering every aspect of photography from rules for street photography to time-lapse photography of the Earth shot from the International Space Station. A large portion of those videos, though, tend to be didactic. They’re often tutorials in which one photographer explains to other photographers how to take certain kinds of images. Andy Booth, for example, is a UK-based photographer who shoots in the evenings and at most weekends. Despite holding down a full-time job in the insurance industry he might also complete a couple of paid wedding photography jobs a month, and since 2010 has uploaded more than 50 photography-related videos to YouTube.
The camera you use to take your pictures affects the pictures you produce. That’s especially true when the camera is far from the studio, held in your hands and embedded in a mobile phone. Those images — the spontaneous shots snapped by an iPhone — are unique, natural and have a real value for image buyers.
That, at least, is the assumption behind foap, a new stock service launched in Sweden in May this year. The site is the idea of Alexandra Bylund and David Los, two workers in the travel industry who had struggled to find stock images that had a “local feeling” and a look that was more natural than stylized. Microstock sites like iStock might offer huge inventories, explained Ms Bylund, but many of the images are similar and few have the kind of emotional impact she was looking for to promote travel destinations. Read the rest …
If you’re hoping to take your DSLR with you to London to watch the Olympics, shoot some pictures and perhaps make a few bucks by selling them… there’s a good chance you’re going to be out of luck. Just as you won’t be able to buy fries unless they’re produced by Tier 1 sponsor McDonalds (or if they’re sitting alongside some traditional fish) or buy a soda if it’s not made by Coca Cola, so you can’t sell an image shot at the Olympics if you’re not an accredited member of the media.
Getty, an official partner, will be there with more than a hundred photographers, producers and field editors taking thousands of images mostly for editorial buyers but also specifically for some client brands. But if you’re not one of the 5,600 accredited members of the media, you’ll find that your problem won’t only be the view your ticket provides. You’ll also be specifically prohibited from selling the pictures you take. Amateur Photographer has pointed out that the conditions of entry to the Olympics games make clear that selling your images is a breach of organizer Locog’s terms: Read the rest …
It didn’t take long for the appointment of Google executive Marissa Mayer as Yahoo CEO to ignite hope in the hearts of Flickr lovers everywhere. Entrepreneur Sean Bonner bought www.dearmarissamayer.com and used the domain to appeal not for a more friendly Yahoo Mail or for a better search facility but for a better photo-sharing site. Writing in 100-point font, he pleaded as someone who loves flickr “and it breaks my heart how Yahoo! has just let it rot for all these years” for the new chief executive to “please make Flickr awesome again.” The page was signed “the internet.”
Flickr was quick with a response. The site put up a page urging the internet to come and help make Flickr “awesomer.” That page linked to the site’s jobs page as well as to its github and code pages.
When Kelly Lindsay was asked to donate to a charity auction in 2011, the seniors photographer from Boston, MA, saw no reason to refuse. Although she had been asked to contribute to charities before, this time the request came through a friend who was close to the family organizing the event. The cause, a scholarship for local seniors, was one that she identified with and there was always the chance that being part of a benefit that involved parents of seniors might just translate into new business.
It didn’t quite work out that way. Kelly donated a $250 gift voucher. She has no idea how much the winner actually paid for her services and despite some initial attention, none of the prospects that she talked to after the auction actually made a booking. In the end, her gift didn’t cost her anything; the voucher has never been used. But Kelly, a relatively new photographer with a three-year old business, was willing to give away $250-worth of work and would have received nothing in return except the warm feeling that comes from supporting a good cause.
Kelly was unusual in that as a photographer who depends on bookings, she was able to donate the offer of a service rather than a product. For art photographers, requests for charitable donations can be a much bigger dilemma, forcing them to question whether they should give, what to give and whether they can expect their good deed to deliver anything in return.