One of the biggest changes to hit the business world — including the photography world — during the last few years has been globalization. When you can pay someone on the other side of the planet half the fees charged by a local service provider and receive the same quality, the difference in time zones doesn’t look too awkward. For photographers, it’s created real challenges — and real opportunities too. Now that any photographer anywhere can offer their photos to any buyer, competition has multiplied. Reuters, for example, prides itself not on its ability to fly seasoned photographers from its head office to trouble spots around the world but on its army of local stringers already in place. That’s made it harder than ever for photojournalists with dreams of foreign assignments to get a foot in the door, but it has created plenty of opportunity for Iraqi photography students, Iranians with cameras and Afghans who know their Nikons. If photographers are now competing with peers everywhere, the flip-side is that markets everywhere are now available to any photographer.
That could be even more important than it sounds. While the US publishing industry continues its decline, the media in the developing world is growing at a cracking rate. According to a report published by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and Pricewaterhouse Coopers, the newspaper and magazine industry in the sub-continent is now worth $3.2 billion a year, making it the third biggest English-language market in the world. By 2011, boosted by lower cover prices, growing literacy and rising incomes, that revenue is estimated to reach $5.8 billion. So what can you do to take a share of that cash and get your images bought by buyers in foreign markets?
Make the Subjects Match the Market
In theory, you don’t need to do much. Because images on stock sites can already be seen by anyone, simply uploading your photos to a microstock company is enough to make them available for sale. But whether they sell depends on the types of photos you’re offering. While a photo of a lemon or a tree is universal, it’s pictures of people that sell best. But people look different the world over and are moved most by images that contain faces that are similar to their own. Only 5 percent of current stock images however show the people who produce 65 percent of world’s gross domestic product — and who own 40 percent of the world’s purchasing power. It was that realization that led to the formation of Gogo Images, an agency that specializes in offering pictures of minorities to marketers and design agencies whose clients operate in different continents.
“While the company’s actual product photography can be used everywhere, their websites and sales materials need to be regionalized for every country in which they are engaged,” explains Jennifer Hurshell, the company’s Chief Creative Officer and co-founder. “And believe me, the General Manager of the company’s Brazil subsidiary is going to insist on having his marketing tools reflect images of Brazilians.”
One way to increase the chances of winning foreign sales then is to take pictures of foreigners. For Gogo’s photographers, that might mean “street casting” or using a model agency. More usually though, it means turning to friends and family who, conveniently, are also the type least likely to demand payment or refuse to sign model releases.
Gogo’s submissions requirements tend to be fairly stringent. The company only accepts images of 12 megapixels and above, but shooting pictures of minorities and uploading them to microstock sites or picture libraries will also put you in the running for one type of easy sale.
Microstock companies though have the disadvantage of paying very little, a downside that’s actually a problem in general when pitching to foreign markets. Even rights managed photos can cost less when the market in which they’re being used is outside North America. And we’ve seen before how some publishers in the developing world have the kind of purchasing budgets that would embarrass a student newspaper — even when those publishers are giant Western companies. In countries where the cost of living is relatively low, there’s always the temptation to pay the photographer peanuts.
Perhaps the best option then is to treat global markets in the same way you treat local markets. While you can’t usually expect to live in the US and shoot the odd wedding job in France, you can send emails to publishers around the world and pitch your images directly. Local publications like the German magazine Visuell can point out good places to look in that specific market but you’ll always have an advantage if you can speak the language, write a persuasive email, be able to follow up and, most importantly, have images that appeal to the publication. That’s the sort of thing that usually comes from reading it regularly and being familiar with its style.
The exception of course is if you’re an internationally known photographer. That might not be as hard as it sounds if you can find a niche small enough. The photographers at Del Sol Photography who specialize in Trash the Dress photography have been able to shoot weddings in six different countries. Because they’re among the leaders in their field, clients get to hear about them and are prepared to hire them even when the distances are enormous. While pitching to foreign clients should be one goal, a better goal is for foreign clients to want to pitch for your services.
Photography used to be an industry in which “international” meant heading out on assignment to exotic locations to shoot models in the surf or marines on beaches. It meant packing film into courier bags and spending too much time on planes. Today, the Internet allows photo editors anywhere to go online, search for photos and buy the images they need. They don’t care where the images come from or what kind of passport the photographer owns. They just want to know whether the picture tells the story they want. When the entire world has become a market, it’s up to you take your share of it.