Photography: Roger Smith
You might be the greatest photographer in the world. You could have a hard drive stuffed with images that Bill Gates wants on Corbis and Spielberg wants on his office walls. You could have the potential to go down in photographic history alongside Man Ray, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
But if no one but you, your family and your cat ever see your photos, how are we going to know?
Taking photos might be the fun side of photography but if you want the applause — and the income — you have to put them in front of people too.
Everyone’s on Flickr
Flickr has certainly made that a lot easier. Anyone can upload images and as long as you keep them public, anyone can see them too.
But that doesn’t mean they will.
Flickr isn’t just a photo-sharing site, it’s also a networking site. If you want people to see the photos you’ve uploaded, you have to network. Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, probably Flickr’s most successful member, told us in a recent interview:
You can’t just put your pictures up and leave them there. You have to drag people back to your photostream.
That means joining — and being active in — groups. It means leaving comments on other people’s photos. And it means building up a list of contacts so that your images will appear on their home page when they log in. It means giving to Flickr more than your Pro membership fee and copies of your photo files.
You have to give your time, your advice and your friendship too.
Give Your Images Away
Networking will give you a base of people who enjoy seeing — and commenting on — your images. Making a few of your photos available for free will get them seen by the photo users who search Flickr every day looking for photos for their blogs, websites and other publications.
Those with consciences, such as The Economist, only search for photos published under Creative Commons licenses. (You don’t really want your photos seen by the other type of users.) If you don’t have any photos available for free use then, they’ll receive much less exposure in search results.
You should keep your best photos copyrighted so that you can earn from the licenses, but lower quality images should be available as bait to bring people looking for the subjects you’ve photographed into your photostream.
Market Your Website
Flickr, of course, is just one place to display images. You can also put photos on your website but the marketing is a little harder. Everyone knows about Flickr. No one will know about your site unless you tell them.
But the same principles apply to marketing a website that apply to promoting your Flickr stream. Although there are all sorts of ways to bring traffic to a site, photographers are a pretty curious bunch and they’re always keen to look at each other’s work. Joining forums and discussion boards, leaving comments on other people’s sites and especially focusing on conversations related to your photography niche will help to build you connections and get you eyes on your images.
Here’s Mud in Your Eye
And what happens next?
Of course, you won’t get anywhere without good photos. And you won’t get anywhere if no one sees those photos. But you won’t earn a dime if you can’t turn those views into income.
There are all sorts of ways to create those conversions, and that’s the sort of thing we like to talk about here. They might include photography books, licenses, wallpaper, advertising and cards to name just a few. (You can find a much longer list here.)
But to be a successful photographer who earns from their hobby, all of those things have to work together: good photos, an efficient monetization system and plenty of views too.
Check out our post on creating niche websites and tell us how you put your photos in front of viewers.