A Passion for Wrecks and Images Give a Photography Enthusiast a Second Career

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Image: Pongsatorn Sukhum

Pongsatorn Sukhum was on his way to becoming a professional photographer. A long-time camera enthusiast, he took a year off college while studying in the UK to work in a studio that shot advertising photography. He then moved into editorial photography, shooting for travel magazines and building up a collection of underwater stock images that combined his love of photography with his passion for Scuba diving. In the mid-nineties, his work was shown in a group exhibition in his native Thailand. Today, Pongsatorn runs an engineering business in Bangkok but his continued work in underwater photography, and in particular, his images of World War II wrecks off the coast of Thailand are an example of how talented enthusiasts can keep their professions while maintaining their passion for image-making and even contributing to the preservation of the subjects they love to shoot.

Pongsatorn now produces fine art prints of his photography which he sells through his website. But publications call him whenever they need images to complement their editorials on wrecks in the region and he is still commissioned occasionally for advertising work. If he’s not working on an engineering project, he’ll dive one or two weekends each month and when he’s not on the water, he’ll find time each week to process images and research ships.

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Pinterest Beats Paid Advertising for Wedding Photographers

Wedding photographers who aren’t using Pinterest are missing an important opportunity to both inspire current clients and to win new brides. That’s the opinion of a number of leading wedding photographers who have turned to the picture-heavy pinboard to show off their work and market their businesses. They’re shrugging off concerns about the uncontrolled spread of their photos and the site’s reliance on sharing copyrighted images, and are enjoying the benefits of building contacts with engaged women looking for photographers and with clients looking for wedding ideas.

That those benefits can flow on Pinterest to wedding photographers in particular isn’t surprising. The site’s demographics are about 70 percent female and the 25-34 age range is the most common, making up about 27 percent of the site’s users. With more than a quarter of those users in households with incomes of over $100,000 per year, those twenty-something and thirty-something women are a prime market for suppliers of wedding services, including photography. And they’re buying. According to one study, 70 percent of Pinterest’s users say they turn to the site to get inspiration on what to buy and 43 percent want “to associate with retailers or brands” with which they identify. The site reports 10 percent more purchases than any other social media platform, including Facebook.

That reach and those statistics are pulling in wedding photographers. A search on the site for “wedding photography” boards produces an apparently endless stream of images.

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Microstock Photographers Plan D-Day Boycott After Getty Gives Away Images Through Google

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Contributors to iStockphoto are planning to pull their portfolios from the microstock site following the discovery of a new distribution agreement with Google. Users of Google Drive, the search company’s cloud-based productivity app, can now insert stock photos drawn from Getty’s inventories into their Google documents without paying a license fee.

The images aren’t promoted, nor are they obvious but they are available. Users of Google Drive must first press “Create” then choose one of the productivity apps, such as the text editor, Document, or the slideshow creator, Presentation. If they then choose Insert > Image from the menu, the last option allows them to “Search” the Web for pictures. They can look on Google, browse a collection supplied by Life, or choose “Stock Images” to bring up pageloads of commercial photographs. Selecting an image pastes it directly into the open document.

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Sell More Than Your Photography Skills

In an environment as competitive as the photo industry, photographers need all the advantages they can get — including specialized knowledge. Expertise in f-stops and exposure times is pretty common and while talent might be rarer, there’s no shortage of enthusiasts who can shoot great pictures time after time. Now that they can make those images available online, through stock sites, their own sites or even through Flickr, anyone looking to make money from their images should be wondering what else they can bring to the market that can help them win customers.

Fortunately, the photography world is filled with examples of people who matched a passion for a field outside photography with a love of picture-making to enable their images to reach a niche market.

Sometimes, that passion doesn’t have to be much more than membership in a particular community. CreationSwap, for example, is a stock site with a number of unusual features. Its inventory is a mixture of free images, stock images that usually sell for between $1 and $6 (although some images may cost as much $20), and a print-on-demand service that returns $10 to the artist for each print order. Royalties for contributors begin at 50 percent but rise by between 1 and 5 percent for each approved item submitted to the site’s free gallery to a maximum of 70 percent.

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Shoot as an Amateur, Show Like a Pro

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Photography: Gavin Hookway

When it comes to getting their work noticed, professional photographers have all the breaks. They have the best equipment, the time to practice and perfect their skills, and the contacts that can put their portfolios in front of buyers and their photos on the walls of galleries. At least that’s what enthusiasts think as we stroll through another exhibition of works created by a professional photographer. And yet, sometimes, those shows aren’t organized by someone who gets paid to head to the wilderness and create beautiful landscape images. The pictures are shot by a camera enthusiast with a regular job, a passion for photography, the talent to produce photographs that people will want to see and the determination to push themselves to be better, build those connections and show their work.

Gavin Hookway, for example, has been practicing photography since 1981. His love of art won him a place at Portsmouth Art College in southern England but at the same time, he was also offered two engineering apprenticeships. In the end, he chose a career that he believed would provide good training, job security and a steady income. He didn’t choose photography. It was that job that enabled him to purchase his first camera. He now lives in Scotland where he works full-time in the health sector but manages to devote between eight and twelve hours a week to photography, time that has to include capturing images, processing them and printing them.

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What I Learned Looking for the Perfect Photo

It doesn’t matter whether you’re pointing the lens on your iPhone at a sunset or shooting in a studio with a Hasselblad H4X, you want the same result: a perfect picture. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a seasoned pro or a novice enthusiast with a vague knowledge of f-stops, you know you’re never going to get it.

We might get close. We might produce a really good picture, the kind that makes us feel we’re really talented and might even be able to impress photo editors and buyers, as well as our friends and family, but we’re always going to have that sneaky feeling that somewhere out there is a shot that’s even better.

But what would that picture look like? How close can we come to taking a perfect photograph — and what does it actually take to grab a shot that’s as close to perfection as we’ll ever get?

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Merry Christmas Flickr, Love Facebook

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Flickr couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas gift. Starved of affection, uninvited to the social media party and left behind by more fashionable rivals, Flickr has been in desperate need of a reason to celebrate for a long time. That its gift should have come from Instagram, the hippest of those rivals and owned by social media giant Facebook, will make the unwrapping even sweeter. And it couldn’t have come at a better moment.

Flickr, which was once the darling of photography enthusiasts looking to share images and win applause from other photographers, had done little but fall off the radar since its purchase by Yahoo in 2005. It’s been out-paced by Facebook which has become the repository of the party photos and social snaps that were once the mainstay of Flickr’s casual users. It’s been mismanaged by Yahoo, which saw Flickr’s store of images as an asset to be incorporated into the company’s content bank rather than a service that should foster innovation and build communities. (Gizmodo’s account of Yahoo’s gutting of Flickr makes for some pretty harrowing reading.) And worse, it was left completely flat-footed in the mobile revolution. Its featureless app failed to break into Apple’s top 50 free photography apps and was even ranked lower than a program that added laser eyes to photos of cats.

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What it Takes to Give up the Day Job and Become a Professional Photographer

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.”

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Profitable Photography Promotions

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.

  1. 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.

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Remembrance Photography Helps Families to Heal



Image courtesy: Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

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.

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Photographers Still Making Sales on Flickr

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 …

The Most Valuable Photography Subjects (and How to Sell Them)

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.

Art Images

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Make Black and White Wedding Photography Your Unique Sales Point



Photography: Kevin Mullins

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 …

How To Make a Photo Trip Pay

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.

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Lessons in Success from a 12-Year-Old Bird Photographer



Photography: Lorenzo Rohani

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 …

Strategies for Licensing Your Own Images



Photography: Andrew Brooks

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 …

The Most Important Facts You Need to Know About Photo Buyers

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.

  1. 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.

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Double Your Passion by Shooting Railroad Photography



Photography: Steve Barry

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 …

Shooting a Great Picture Takes Time… and So Does Selling It

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 Delays

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.

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Referral Programs That Really Work

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.”

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