Once upon a time, creating a photography business was pretty straightforward. You loaded up on equipment, rented or built a studio, then marketed your services to ad firms, engaged couples and anyone else who might need a photographer. In your spare time, you dragged your camera to scenic spots, sports grounds or anywhere else you wanted to shoot and you took the sort of pictures that warmed your heart. And if you were lucky, talented and had a nose for self-promotion, you sold them too.
Eventually, if you were really fortunate, you might even be able to swap the wedding formals for the commissions of your choice.
That was the photography business model and while there were others for specialized photographers such as photojournalists, that was the route that most photographers took.
That model still stands but today, it has plenty of competitors.
Get Paid to Go to Tahiti
David Kirkland, for example, who used to manage tourism authorities, has carved out a niche for himself as a travel photographer, marketing his services directly to authorities promoting Asia-Pacific travel destinations. Charging up to AUD$1,500 (about USD$1,388) a day for a ten-day shoot, he provides original photographs that the authorities can use in their promotional material.
It’s an approach that seems to work. His list of clients include a number of Australian tourism boards as well as those of Sarawak, Vanuatu, Tahiti and several others. When we contacted David to ask him about his business model, he had just returned from one assignment and was home for just two days before leaving for another.
Perhaps that success isn’t surprising. David has a strong marketing background, and in addition to pitching commissions to tourism authorities, he also offers his clients a number of interesting joint ventures. Allowing tourism authorities to sell his postcards and other souvenirs for example, has generated as much AUS$100,000 even for small organizations, he says. Australia, Vanuatu, Sarawak and Samoa have also accepted David’s offer to become national wholesalers of his images. Having paid him AUS$10,000 to create a customized range of souvenirs and travel publications, they can, he claims, double their investment within two years and leave themselves with a valuable passive revenue stream.
And if that’s not enough, David is also looking for joint venture partners with a AUD$10 million annual turnover to invest in and help with his business.
As a business model, it all goes way beyond taking pictures for clients and earning royalties for their use.
How Finely Can you Slice a Niche?
David Kirkland’s approach is particularly complex. But not all alternative business models need to be that difficult. Mark Maziarz keeps things relatively simple by taking pictures of specialized subjects and promoting them on his own stock sites. He has three: SportsStockPhotography.com, GoodLifeStock.com and ParkCityStock.com, which shows images of Park City, Utah.
Interestingly, Mark has found that the images that sell the best are those that are easiest to promote to a small market.
“In general, the tighter you specialize, the better,” he told us. “For example, my website of Park City, Utah photographs does much better than my more general sports site.”
As a business model taking pictures of just one specific area and marketing it on a specialized website might not sound too revolutionary. But it works, and there’s no reason why it couldn’t be repeated across a number of different niches. If mountain biking is a popular activity in Park City, for example, then Mark might also be able to create a separate, specialized site just for stock images of mountain biking.
When you start dividing your images into smaller and smaller sales niches, you should find that you’re only limited by the time it takes to market them.
Flickr — The New Photography Model
Perhaps the most important business model to emerge in digital imaging though has been the one whose foundations have been laid by Flickr. To call it a business model might be an exaggeration. We’re not aware of anyone who has actually set out deliberately to build a successful photography business on the back of Flickr marketing. As the comments to this post show though, we are aware of plenty of people whose photography businesses have taken off — if only on a small scale — as a result of displaying their best works on the photo-sharing site.
Would it be possible to create an entire business model based on Flickr? It’s unlikely. Flickr is just one marketing tool, and while it does seem to be very effective, there should always be plenty of other tools close at hand. But the site has shown that it should certainly form an important role for any photographers looking to market their images online.
The world of photography isn’t what it used to be… and when an industry depends this heavily on a piece of technology, it never is. Just as the equipment changes, so do the ways to monetize it. Don’t be afraid to get creative with your business model.
David Kirkland has also published an ebook containing 50 tips for travel photography. You can see it here.
[tags] photography business niches [/tags]