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.
Photoshelter, an online portfolio site, has been asking clients the question that’s always on photographers’ minds: what do they want from us? The company’s fifth annual survey of photo buyers, a collaboration with Agency Access, a photography marketing company, has recently been released — and it throws up a number of surprises.
The survey covered more than 1,000 image buyers who commission and license photography worldwide. Forty percent of respondents worked at advertising agencies, 15 percent at design agencies and another 15 percent at editorial publications. Their most common job titles were “Art Director” or “Creative Director” although respondents also included designers, copywriters and photo editors.
Asked about the mistakes photographers were making as they try to make sales and land bookings, the buyers offered up a mixture of old errors and new tricks. Buyers still prefer to see websites that are easy to browse, free of slow-loading Flash and have clear contact information so that they don’t have to waste time searching for ways to buy a license or commission the photographer. Mixing content from different specialties — showing sports photography alongside wedding photography, for example — on the same site was also a bad idea, they said. Read the rest …
Photographers who work with clients from the engagement shoot through the wedding to the baby photos and family portraits might just be missing an opportunity to shoot another lifetime landmark: the birth. It’s a trend that’s been growing in line with the use of doulas and home births, non-intervention and natural birthing. The International Association of Birth Photographers, an organization established by a birth photographer who kept receiving enquiries from women out of state, now lists 400 members. The phenomenon has been covered recently on Canada’s CTV News and by The New York Times.
The rising popularity of birth photography might be surprising. Weddings are pretty, public events but births are messy, private and personal. Women in labor are more concerned about their own pain and the welfare of their baby than in smiling for the lens and looking their best on film, and the newborns themselves are a long way from the clean, posed images of babies held in swaddling blankets and sitting next to puppies. Filled with nudity, nature, blood and disorder, birth photography has little in common with the kinds of jobs most photographers are used to completing. The requests though come in from a wide range of women, each with their own reason for wanting to record the arrival of their family’s new addition. Read the rest …
In 1998, Anna Blackman, a photography and anthropology student at Edinburgh University, took time from her studies to travel to Southeast Asia. Staying in Vietnam, she was moved by the plight of the country’s street children. She teamed up with Ho Chi Minh Child Welfare Foundation and established Street Vision, a photography course for homeless youth. Participants were taught photography, given an opportunity to expand their academic knowledge and received vocational skills that would allow them to be creative and generate their own income. Over the next ten years around 200 young people passed through the course, receiving skills, camera equipment and work placement in Ho Chi Minh city and beyond.
At the same time that Blackman was setting up her program in Vietnam, Tiffany Fairey, another Edinburgh University photography student, was doing much the same thing in Nepal’s Bhutanese refugee camps. Her Children’s Forum project provided training in photography for young refugees, a creative outlet and a way to make an informal income through wedding and event photography. When the two travelers returned, they met, compared notes, saw the value of participatory photography in helping marginalized communities, and founded PhotoVoice, an NGO dedicated to using photography to help disadvantaged groups around the world.
Instagram made Anthony Danielle a professional photographer. The 25-year-old New Yorker and entrepreneur went pro within eighteen months of opening an Instagram account. He now has more than 180,000 followers on the mobile photography platform and wins commissions from corporations as large as airlines to shoot events and put images of their brand in front of his massive online audience.
The work comes in through Mobile Media Lab, a creative agency founded in April of this year by Danielle, together with fellow New York Instagramers Brian DiFeo (@bridif) and Liz Eswein (@newyorkcity).
When science fiction writer John M. Ford died in 2006, he left behind a valuable body of work consisting of more than a dozen novels, as well as short stories and games. He didn’t, however, leave a will. Writing on his blog shortly after his friend’s death, author Neil Gaiman described the “grief and concern” this caused to the people closest to him as they saw his literary estate disposed of in a way that the writer might not have intended while he was alive.
Ford, of course, isn’t the only creative artist to die intestate leaving behind works of art, some of which may be valuable, to be distributed according to inheritance law — and it’s a problem for photographers as much as it is for writers and painters. They too create pieces of art that have both sentimental value and a real financial worth. Nor do the works have to be great pieces of art sold in galleries and bid on at auctions. A collection of images on a hard drive, some of which could generate a stream of sales in the stock photo industry or royalties every time they’re reproduced in a photography book is as much an asset as an artistic print.
Although there are no figures that show the number of artists who die without a will, the percentage of people in the population as a whole who fail to prepare for their death has been put as high as seven in ten, pushing $100 million through probate court each week in the United States. Photographers are unlikely to be any better at preparing for their future than the rest of the population. Read the rest …
Yuri Arcurs, microstock’s most successful contributor, has launched his own sales site. The Danish photographer who has managed to build an international business out of microstock contributions with offices in Aarhus, Denmark and Cape Town, South Africa, is now offering photos directly from PeopleImages.com.
The site, which currently contains 70,000 images, is not a stock agency. All images are owned by Yuri Arcurs — even those shot by his assistants and in-house photographers. PeopleImages, however, is not accepting outside contributors and does not pay out royalties.
A few lucky photographers get to live wherever they want, win jobs from clients on the other side of the planet and receive plane tickets that will take them to a shoot in some exotic Caribbean location. Most don’t. Most photographers’ clients are local. They photograph people who live within perhaps 50 miles of their studio, a distance that doesn’t make the commute too difficult or add too much to expenses. That means that despite the power of the Internet to reach millions of people who need of a photographer, the most important marketing for most photographers will be local marketing.
Here are several ways you can win clients close to home:
Moo cards have become easy but creative ways for photographers to grow their businesses.
For photographers, winning bookings depends on referrals and connections, on personality and on reliability. But mostly it depends on the pictures. Produce great images and you won’t have to do much more than show them to prospects to convert many of them into clients. Moo has been making that easier for photographers to do since 2004. The UK-based print company that specializes in producing small products now prints “millions of cards” each month. They’re sold to hundreds of thousands of customers in more than 180 countries around the world.
Apple has used pop up outlets to sell iPads to conference goers. Chefs have used them to serve diners at temporary restaurants. But can one-off studio shoots, open to anyone who wants to drop by, work for photographers? The answer depends on how you plan them, what you offer — and what you hope to get out of them.
The idea comes mainly from the catering industry. Chefs travel from location to location, sometimes using food trucks to prepare the meals, allowing them to experiment with new dishes and meet diners who otherwise wouldn’t be able to taste their cuisine. In photography, where pop up studios are still relatively new, the aim is similar. Instead of meeting clients in their studio or shooting one client in one location, photographers pick a spot, announce where they’ll be photographing and invite anyone who wants to come along to make a booking and pick up some professional pictures. They get to reach new markets, take new orders and spread their name further than their fixed studio usually allows.
“If a photographer fails to protect their work via a copyright symbol or Trade Dress Registration, it is considered open source on the web,” says a spokesman for WinWatermark, specialized software that helps photographers to protect their photos. “If you publish your images and do not watermark them, they become free for anyone to take and use in any way they like.”
That’s not true, of course. Even without a watermark, an image remains the property of the photographer who created it, and while registering a photo with the Copyright Office might increase the damages in the event of abuse, it doesn’t confer any extra rights the photographer doesn’t already own.
Landing your first photography job will take time — as well as lots of preparation, practice and networking.
Selling your first photo is relatively easy. Image sales, especially stock licenses, depend more on the quality of the photograph than the name of the photographer. Get the subject right and shoot at the right quality, place it on a microstock site or a well-connected Flickr page, and you should find that you’re making a sale even though the closest you’ve ever come to professional photography is walking through a gallery and wishing those were your images on the wall.