Photography: Reid Carr (Red Door Interactive)
Photographers usually want to make money out of their own images. But when you appreciate photography and love your specialty, making money out of other people’s photos can be rewarding too.
Stephen Searer, a history teacher, is at least partly on his way to doing that with OfficeSnapshots.com, which posts photographs of the insides of corporate offices. Launched in August 2007, the site has already featured the workspaces of 233 different companies. Most of those businesses are hi-tech, which probably reflects the kind of work its users do, and because some of them are very large (they include Google and Yahoo!), a number of firms have appeared more than once, so the actual number of photographed offices is even higher.
Offering a sneak peek through the windows of companies we’ve all heard of and businesses whose products we use, the site appeals to our curiosity. We get to see where the websites we read are put together and the desks on which the software we use every day is written. The idea, says Stephen, came after seeing several office picture collections on Digg’s home page.
“I enjoyed seeing the insides of those offices, but after looking around, there was no place that was dedicated to just that idea. So I created it.”
The site’s users range from nosy types who just want to see what someone else’s office looks like, to interior designers looking for trends, to employers hoping to create a better work environment for their employees. Although the companies sometimes invite Stephen to shoot the offices himself (and occasionally send in the pictures in a bid to generate interest and improve search engine optimization), most of the images are sent in by the site’s users or are CC-licensed on Flickr. That can raise some interesting legal dilemmas. Stephen says that he makes sure that publication of the photos is always authorized by the photographer, and during his own shoots is usually asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The company may also ask to view the images before they’re uploaded to make sure that visible whiteboards do not contain any confidential information.
Photographs sent in by employees though can present tougher problems.
“[W]e have had several emails from a company asking that a specific photo of an employee be removed upon their request,” recalled Stephen. “We have also had instances where an employee would like to send images, but they have not received the okay from their bosses.”
The type and quality of the photographs that users contribute tends to vary too. Offices can clearly provide an opportunity to shoot beautiful, artistic images but the site serves a purpose. For Stephen, the goal of OfficeSnapshots.com is to reveal what the office actually looks like for employees.
“We do get quite a few ultra-clean, amazingly photographed sets, but I just like to be able to imagine what it would actually be like to work at the particular company,” says Stephen. “If a picture is able to capture that, then I think it is an effective picture.”
The importance of an image’s utility then, is always going to be important — even when posted to a free website — something that photographers always need to consider.
While the legal restrictions of posting photographs taken of private spaces can be relatively easy to handle (provided you’re careful and move quickly to handle complaints), generating income from a site like this is much harder. OfficeSnapshots.com has an online store offering affiliate-linked office furniture but that has yet to generate any money at all and may soon be phased out. Advertising brings in some income but that depends on a larger audience. Stephen’s day job means that he doesn’t give the site as large a marketing push as he would like, but he is looking into ways of expanding the site to bring in more users. In the meantime, he’s having fun creating the site and from seeing his readers enjoying it.
In theory, with enough users, targeted ads and time spent marketing, there’s no reason why the site’s income shouldn’t grow and provide some useful extra revenue for someone whose main motivation is to look at interesting pictures.
And clearly, there’s also no reason the same system couldn’t work in other fields of interest. If people want to take a peek inside offices, they might also want to see pictures of hotel rooms, bars, restaurants and homes. Or how about golf courses, libraries, colleges and airports?
The question is probably not whether you can make it pay but which topics would interest you the most – and how much satisfaction you’d get showing other people’s photographs and not just your own.