Using Email Marketing to get More Photography Jobs


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.

A Marketing Message is Part of a Plan

Photographers though don’t need to have giant clickthrough rates because they don’t need to have giant client lists. Each commission may be worth several thousand dollars, generate repeat offers and win the kind of personal recommendations that buyers use the most. A single commission would be more than enough to justify the expense and the time involved in creating the campaign.

While AgencyAccess has the contact lists though, the addresses themselves are only a small part of a successful email campaign.

“We find, and advise, that having a plan for your marketing campaign is the best way to achieve these rates,” says Christine Andrews. “It’s all about consistency and taking the time to out to market your professional work in a professional manner.”

That professional manner might begin with a targeted list but it should also include a professional-looking template email, an awareness of seasons and holidays, as well as eye-catching subject lines and copy that can appeal to a buyer. An email campaign shouldn’t be a one-off but should be part of a strategy aimed at a particular group of buyers who are impressed by an image and click through to see a website that’s easy to browse, filled with a portfolio showing a style of photography they can use, of subjects they need, and containing a contact page that’s responsive and quick to find.

Mostly though, successful email marketing is about the picture.

Call the Clicks

Amanda Sosa Stone, for example, is a creative consultant who works with photographers to help them improve their portfolios and enhance their marketing efforts. On AgencyAccess’s blog, she listed a number of very simple emails — messages that consisted of little more than an image and contact details — which resulted in job offers from recipients. Coolife, a studio in Manhattan, picked up a cover for Bloomberg Businessweek with  a quirky take on Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume. Craig Mitchelldyer won a shoot from Barron’s with an emailed image of a chief executive.

And even failure to win a job directly can still win opportunities too. Gregory Costanzo implemented the second part of his email marketing plan when he followed up an mailshot by checking his email clicks. He identified which of his recipients had clicked through to his website but failed to contact him, and used Agency Access’s telemarketing service to make phone pitches to people who had already shown an interest. According to Sosa Stone, he won three meetings each of which led to potential jobs or bid requests.

But those stories may be exceptional. Even a 5 percent clickthrough rate is not the same as a 5 percent conversion rate and with 1,600 photographers appealing to the same group of buyers, photographers will need exceptional images and websites to stand out. They’ll need to choose their images and their targets carefully and follow up their pitches.

“Photography is a business,” explains Christine Andrews. “It’s having the ability to execute your client’s vision, but it’s also about forming and maintaining relationships with your clients. That is of course where personality AND marketing come into play. You wouldn’t want a client to go with another photographer because you sent one email and one mail card to keep in touch while your competitor sent emails quarterly and followed up with mail and/or a phone call.”

All of that, of course, costs money. AgencyAccess’s services start at $82 per month for access to a list and rise to $395 for complete campaigns with statistical analysis of results. You’ll also need to add on the costs of any follow-up calls, as well as the time involved in creating the marketing copy. In return for that investment though, you do get access to a giant database of leading photography buyers.

Alternatively, you could use your website to build up your own email list, make sure that your website can be found by search engines, and go straight for the most popular way that buyers find clients — ask satisfied customers to pass your name around.

Freelancers Need to Be More Than a Photographer


Photography: Sara Rosso

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.

Image credit: Sara Rosso

Sara Rosso, for example, describes herself as a  “writer, photographer, technology lover, and business and digital strategist.” She has a bachelors degree in Managing Information Systems, an MBA in Managing Innovation and Technology, and has worked in technology for Hewlett-Packard and Ogilvy. Since 2003 though, she has been living in Italy where she writes about food, technology and healthy living. She also sells her photographs, sometimes through Getty, sometimes through her own website and she accepts wedding jobs too. While some photographers are choosing to build their brand through specialization and a tightly-defined niche, Sara Rosso is able to live in a beautiful location and make a living with a range of freelance jobs that include and relate to photography.

“I definitely feel we’re in a new Renaissance period characterized by the sheer number of tools available which allow us to indulge our interests and create things – music, photography, books – without anyone’s permission or validation,” she says. “I can’t ignore the more practical side of me which is interested in things like site statistics, financial reporting, and money-making experimentation – I love it, actually…. I love it when my two halves cooperate on something together.”

Photography Meets Digital Branding

Rosso’s work has appeared in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired Italy, Sky News, Italian Glamour and Vanity Fair. Her expertise in technology has her traveling from girl geek dinners in Milan to the SxSW festival in Texas delivering talks on topics that range from WordPress techniques to the distributed company. Her blogs let her write about travel, food, business-growing and — a key interest — Nutella, a chocolate-hazelnut spread.

But while Rosso’s range of interests is broad, they all support each other. Her ebook about Italian coffee is self-published through Kindle and uses her own photography on the cover. Her food blogging complements her inventory of food images on Getty. Her travel writing gives her an opportunity to take more pictures of attractive scenes in a beautiful country.

Most importantly, though, Rosso’s knowledge of business and technology, and their meeting point at digital branding, gives her the expertise she needs to sell her services to clients online. She describes her website as a “hub” that provides an overview of who she is and what she does, and shows off some of the photography she shoots for clients and for personal use.

That knowledge of technology and business is a huge advantage that ensures that she’s not just able to create great images but find buyers for them too.

“I used to rue not being a specialist when I was growing up, but now I’m happy with  being more of a generalist and I think it’s the best way to adapt to the unknown future,” she says. “[T]he technology and digital strategy parts of me are probably the strongest because while the underlying core of what I enjoy stays the same (the written word, a visual image, a business idea), the methods of exploring, developing, and sharing them are changing all the time. And that’s exciting to me. Understanding and being interested in technology is the best way to adapt your work.”

The Websites Are Wrong

It also means that Rosso has an overview of how other photographers are using technology to promote their work. The most common mistake, she argues, is in the way photographers use their websites. Many are beautiful, she says, and show off the photographer’s work but they often have very little functionality. They’re not indexed by search engines, buyers have trouble finding them, identifying the services on offer or understanding how to contact the photographer. It’s a criticism that buyers themselves have often made.

When it comes to branding, photographers need to know who they are and where they want to go, recommends Rosso. Their site, whether it’s a static website, a blog or, like hers, a network of blogs, should offer content that reflects their personality, their interests and their knowledge. As users leave Rosso’s website for one of her blogs on food or travel or photography, they get an idea of the sort of topics that interest Rosso and in which she has expertise.

 “I would say I built [my] brand by sharing not only who I am, but what I know and what I’m interested in…. I think that is a good foundation for anyone’s personal brand: tell who you are, share what you know and what you’re learning, and curate the best of the rest.”

Although her photography has been good enough to win the attention of Getty as well as a number of big-name buyers, Rosso says that it’s unlikely she’ll ever devote herself to photography full-time. Part of that comes down to fear, she says. Putting all her eggs in one basket makes her nervous (“especially with how fragile the photography basket is.”) But it would also mean cutting out other activities and interests that she enjoys — and it’s also not necessary for her or for other photographers. Asked how she would advise other enthusiasts thinking of creating a one-person business, ideally in a beautiful location, that includes photography, even if it’s not made up entirely of photography, Rosso suggests getting good at video or writing as well as creating stills.

“One of the two, and preferably both.”

YouTube Fails to Bring Sales for Photographers


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.

Shooting Without a Plan

Those videos are a mixed bunch. They include a clip of the photographer unboxing his Canon 5D MKII, shooting a client in his makeshift studio and explaining water droplet photography.

“I don’t have any set rules, themes or targeted audience for the videos,” he said. “The subject/theme is usually decided by subjects that just spring to mind.”

Measured by views alone though, those random videos have been relatively successful. Altogether, Andy’s uploads have been watched over 330,000 times, with two videos picking up more than 60,000 views each. The traffic comes in largely through his Twitter account and Facebook page, a platform that also serves as Andy’s main website. Sometimes, he’ll also place a link to a new video on his Twitter stream. Mostly though, he banks on YouTube’s search engine to turn up his videos in search results and present them to interested viewers.

Ed Verosky, a professional photographer in New York, takes a similar approach to YouTube. He started uploading two years ago with the aim of sharing some behind-the-scenes footage as well as some music video work. His 23 uploaded videos, many of which are audio podcasts, have now been seen more than 111,000 times, with his most popular video an explanation of a one light portrait setup that picked up nearly 31,000 views. Like Andy Booth’s channel, the bulk of his uploads are tutorials.

“I started sharing tips and being very open about my work and how I do things,” he said. “Other photographers responded to that content and I found that I really loved teaching and inspiring other photographers to do better work.  My videos are about sharing what I know and love about photography.”

Ed aims to keep his shoots simple and casual. He even shot his first videos on a low-end cell phone or a “toy video camera.” As his videos became more complex though, so the time he needed to invest in shooting and post-production, and in learning new techniques, became greater too. Editing takes the most time now, he says, but he’s also had to learn how to do 2D and 3D animation, rendering, video lighting and audio recording and editing.

The question though is whether that investment pays off financially — and the answer is that it probably doesn’t. Neither Ed nor Andy could a recall winning a booking from someone who had first seen their YouTube videos. Ed wins most of his work from search engines, word-of-mouth, a good sales page and through his portfolio. Some clients have said that they hired him after enjoying one of his blog posts but none have mentioned his YouTube videos as the factor that led to the hire.

“Photographers, like myself, look to YouTube for entertainment and tutorials,” he says. “As for targeting potential clients, I just don’t see them looking through YouTube to find a photographer.”

Even Information Products Don’t Sell

But if YouTube is primarily used by photographers looking for an education it should be a good place to promote information products created by photographers. Even that though, doesn’t seem to be the case. Ed Verosky offers a number of guides and ebooks on different aspects of photography but doesn’t believe that any of the sales of even his educational products can be traced back to his YouTube videos.

“I’m sure the videos must help,” he says, “but I have no hard evidence of that.  I think everything helps in a cumulative way.”

The problem with video-sharing as a way of winning clients might have less to do with the videos and more to do with the sharing, particularly on YouTube. Our book The Successful Wedding Photographer contains a chapter on the benefits of video advertising in which Lan and Vu Bui, photographers who double as videographers, discuss the importance of shooting behind-the-scenes videos in which the photographer talks to the camera, relaxes and builds a connection with the viewer. It’s that connection, they argue, that can be more powerful than any other marketing technique.

The marketing though has to be aimed at the right market. If YouTube’s photographer channels are watched primarily by other photographers looking to improve their skills, they’re going to be the wrong place to upload a video aimed at potential clients. To persuade leads that you’re talented and reliable, easy to work with and capable of producing the images they need, you should be putting that video on your website, not on YouTube. And that video itself should be about you and the way you shoot, not about the viewer and the shots he or she would like to take.

YouTube can be useful for photographers. It can be a good way to teach other photographers how to take pictures, to spread your love of photography and photographic technique, and to dabble in images that move. But if you’re looking to make money out of photography — and you want to use videos to help you — watch it for the tips but shoot for the clients.

Smartphones Let You Capture the Moment — and Sell It


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.

“Even if there’s millions of photos [on stock sites] it’s difficult to find photos in which people can recognize themselves,” she said.

Flickr, which some buyers have found to be a good source of naturalistic images, poses different problems. Without an inbuilt buying system, making a purchase is difficult and although the photo-sharing site “has many good photos,” Ms Bylund said, the lack of selectivity and the absence of sorting on the site makes those images hard to find. Users can upload any photos they want so there’s no minimal level of quality and no easy way to filter searches for professional-quality shots.

“My nightmare is that if I’m looking for photos from the beach I don’t want to see grey shoots. On Flickr there are many fine photos but also many you don’t like.”

Cats and Keyboards

Foap’s website looks little different to that of traditional stock sites — or even microstock sites. The home page broadcasts a flat price of $10 per image of which 50 percent is returned to the photographer. Images are sold on a royalty-free basis and are divided into editorial and commercial usage depending on their content. (Images of subjects that require special permission from copyright owners, such as logos and some buildings, are automatically marked as editorial.)

But the website is limited and appears to be geared mainly towards buyers. For sellers, uploads can only be made from the iPhone app, and it’s here that it’s possible to see images that have received the highest ratings from other users and those which have just sold. It’s even possible to take pictures from within the app, allowing users to shoot and sell at the same time.

The images themselves are a mixed bunch. Although the biggest market demand is for pictures that show faces and people (and which come with model releases), the most common uploads tend to be of nature, beaches and buildings. While some of the landscape images are as professional and attractive as any you can find on a traditional stock site, others look like they might have been better uploaded to Facebook. Like Flickr, there’s no shortage of cute kittens and happy-looking cats but mixed in among them are also the sorts of standard office shots more usually found on microstock sites. Altogether foap currently has around 200,000 images with more added daily.

It’s Easier to Capture the Moment

That variability, and in particular the emphasis on nature shots, may well be the result of the site’s dependence on the iPhone. (An Android app is in development and should be released in the fall.) The ubiquity of high quality camera phones, the ease of taking a beautiful scene at the moment you see it, does enable anyone to capture moments — of sunsets, street scenes and fields, for example — that would previously have required planning on the part of a photographer. Now anyone capture them at any time — and everyone does. Foap aims to bring a new kind of image to the stock market.

“People think differently when they take a picture with an iPhone,” says Ms Bylund. “They see other views. It’s easier to catch the moment. That’s the big difference. Even my mom takes pictures every day now.”

Sales are beginning to pick up. Alexandra Bylund herself has sold three of the thirteen images in her portfolio of children’s photos and Swedish scenes. The site also has a deal with a number of companies who place requests, or “missions,” for particular images that they need. Solanum Odlarna, for example, is looking for barbeque photos for a campaign. “Think grill, cozy, summer, vacation, sunset,” it says.

In September, when foap launches a new version, images will need to be exclusive, a move that might help to keep out some of the more obviously stock-style images. The site also plans to bring the community into the review procedures, a development that might help to ensure a higher overall quality on the site — although it could also enable photographers to keep out competitors.

While foap may be able to make money selling images shot spontaneously, the challenge will be for photographers to make money at all. They certainly won’t be able to do it professionally. The site emphasizes that the same image can be sold multiple times but repeat sales usually require the kind of general but flexible images more usually found on stock sites. If the images on iStock are similar or bland it’s because photographers need them to speak to enough art buyers to sell enough times to recoup the cost of production. Foap’s missions, too,  may raise the chances of making a sale but photographers won’t make a profit by setting aside time to shoot an image that gives them just five bucks.

When microstock started, it provided an opportunity for a few top photographers to avoid the large stock sites and make a living as professionals. Saturation and falling royalties have now so reduced profits that even Yuri Arcurs no longer uploads to third party sellers, preferring to sell through his own site instead. Foap won’t fill that gap. But it may provide a way for photography enthusiasts to make a few bucks from their talent each time they spot a scene worthy of a picture — and which they’d miss if they hadn’t brought their iPhone.

Want to Cover the Olympics as a Photographer? Forget About It!


Photography: Peter J. Dean

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:

“Images, video and sound recordings of the Games taken by a Ticket Holder cannot be used for any purpose other than for private and domestic purposes and a Ticket Holder may not license, broadcast or publish video and/or sound recordings, including on social networking websites and the internet more generally, and may not exploit images, video and/or sound recordings for commercial purposes under any circumstances, whether on the internet or otherwise, or make them available to third parties for commercial purposes.”

You Can Tweet the Olympics

That might sound unenforceable, especially the bit about publishing images taken at the Olympic games to social media pages. You don’t have to look far on Twitter or Facebook to find shots of people sitting at the hockey or watching the beach volleyball, a usage that, despite the policies, Locog does, in fact, appear to allow.

Those shots tend to be pretty amateurish though, the kind snapped on a mobile phone as a momento rather than an image composed for sale. It’s the commercial use, the sort that enthusiasts will find the biggest opportunity, that Locog is trying to stop. And it’s doing it with more than a policy that’s badly worded and hard to enforce. According to Petapixel, the Olympics security staff at most venues are also allowed to confiscate all camera equipment over 30cm, including tripods and monopods. And because there’s no storage there’s a good chance you won’t be getting your gear back when you leave. As the site points out, if your expensive lens or monopod mean something to you, you’ll probably want to leave them at home.

Not all of those conditions are entirely unreasonable. Spectators arriving to watch the games shouldn’t have to try to see over a photography enthusiast putting up a tripod or squeeze past a giant telephoto lens. And athletes should be able to run, jump and throw things without wondering whether their look of disappointment is going to appear alongside an ad for a painkiller. You won’t be getting a model release, so there’s little point in trying to get a close-up.

And yet, there is plenty of demand for Olympics images. PicNiche, a service that measures the difference between the frequency of keyword searches on microstock sites and the size of the inventory available to meet that demand, gives “Olympics 2012” a score of 575.4. The site nominates anything over 100 as a “niche,” its highest ranking. That’s a rare opportunity in an industry suffering from saturation.

Meeting that demand while obeying the restrictions placed on photographers won’t be easy. You can forget about selling shots of athletes, and logos of either the Olympic rings or the London 2012 symbol are protected. Third party sellers will reject them and buyers will recognize them in the inventories of photographers’ own websites.

One option is to sell Olympics-related images for editorial use. You’d still have to take out the shots of the sports themselves, unless you’re accredited, but you could shoot buildings and scenes around the games as well as the logos. The highest-selling Olympics-related image on Dreamstime, for example, combines a shot of Big Ben with the Union Flag and the Olympic rings. It’s only for editorial use but it’s sold 57 downloads.

Focus on the Tagging

The problem with that strategy will be the connections and the timing. Big editorial buyers will be picking up their images from the accredited photographers, leaving lean pickings for independent enthusiasts; those 57 downloads will have barely paid for the image’s cost of production. And once the Olympics are over, the demand is likely to drop.

“I think the demand will primarily be before the events for commercial use, and after the events for editorial,” says Robert Davies, the creator of picNiche. “If photographers don’t have Olympics-themed images in their portfolio already, they’re probably too late for the vast majority of commercial sales, and will have to rely on editorial (which is of course during the events a significant market, reducing somewhat heavily afterwards.)”

Considering the restrictions on photography at the games themselves, on the commercial use of the images and the difficulties involved in both creating editorial images and getting them to the market in time, the best opportunity for photographers attending the games might be in the way the images are sold. “Olympics 2012” might have a picNiche ranking of over 500 but that figure drops into the fifties when you take out the year.

According to Robert Davies, it’s that extra detail in the tagging that makes the difference between one image among thousands and an image that can stand out from thousands.

“It’s not exclusive to the Olympics; it would apply to virtually any dateable images,” he says. “Specificity ‘usually’ (but not always) leads to higher conversions and thus higher picNiche ratings.”

If you’re looking to make money from the Olympics forget about taking your camera to the games. Start mashing together images related to Brazil and sports. Make sure that you tag them “Olympics 2016”… and enjoy the Games on television.

What Marissa Mayer Should Do to Make Flickr Awesome (again)


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 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.

The pleas from both Flickr’s number one fan and from the Yahoo-owned platform itself won a lot of play on the Web. Mashable wrote about it, as did CNN, and Flickr’s response picked up more than 2,700 tweets. But there was little said about what exactly Flickr (or the Internet) should actually be doing to make the tool as awesome and indispensable as it used to be.

Here are some ideas.

  1. Sort Out the App

There’s no reason that Instagram should exist, let alone have a $1 billion price tag. Flickr should have beaten founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger to the App Store by years and with an inventory of hundreds of millions of photos. It should have allowed photo editing, simple batch uploading from smartphones on the go as well as all the filters that Instagram’s enthusiastic snappers have been using to hide their shots’ weaknesses.

Flickr does have an iPhone app. It was introduced in 2009, a year after the App Store opened, and despite several updates since then is still terrible. Search for “photography” in the App Store and it turns up in 52nd place — 22 places behind an app that lets you put your photo in a cut-out of Justin Bieber.

Describing the fall of Flickr on Gizmodo earlier this year, Mat Honan put the app’s failure at the feet of Marco Boerries, the head of Yahoo Mobile and a man described on Quora by Kellan Elliot-McCrea, Etsy’s CTO and the chief architect of Flickr, as “without a doubt one of the most viciously political, and disliked Yahoo! execs.”

But in that same Quora answer in which Elliot-McCrea reveals the debates and lack of decisions about Flickr’s app, he ends on a positive note:

“It would actually be incredibly straightforward to build something like an Instagram on top of Flickr using the API, especially if you could convince Flickr to release an API to “Beehive” the friend finder tool, which among other things, benefits from Y! backdoor deal with Facebook.”

He wrote that back in 2010, before Instagram joined Facebook and before Facebook was the size of a continent. But Flickr does still need to sort out its app problem. Members should be able to shoot, edit, add filters and upload to their accounts from their phones. They should also be able to browse similar images taken near their location and chat, Twitter-like, with other members. Instead of checking in, like Foursquare, they should be able to take pictures to show where they are visually and beautifully.

And they should be able to browse their own and others’ images on their iPads. That’s not awesome; that’s basic.

  1. Open the Networking  

Flickr’s real benefit wasn’t that it was a place to store images. It was a place to share images, to talk about images and to like images. Top users quickly came to see the value of leaving helpful comments at the bottom of pictures and Flickr groups soon morphed into real offline Flickr Meetups and photo walks. Long before Facebook was helping college kids to stay in touch, Flickr was bringing together strangers and helping them to meet in real life. Marriages happened.

As basic social photo-sharing has leaked to Facebook, that activity seems to have died away. Mat Honan describes how browsing his friends’ Flickr streams reveals die-offs in image uploads from 2010.

But Facebook isn’t a photo site. It’s a networking site that also lets people share photos. Just as Mark Zuckerberg added Flickr’s albums and uploads to his networking, so Flickr could just easily let members send public messages directly to and from each other. If Twitter can put strangers in touch, how hard would it be to follow Facebook and Google+ and let image-lovers build lists and circles based on their relationships and photography interests?

Flickr wouldn’t replace Facebook. It can’t do that now. But a photo-sharing site without some form of networking capability feels as strange as a networking site that doesn’t allow image uploads. Even Twitter understood that. Eventually.

  1. Refine the Search

Here’s the flaw in Sean Bonner’s plea: for image users, Flickr is still awesome. At least a bit. According to Photoshelter’s buyer survey  16 percent of image buyers say that they have found new talent on Flickr. That’s much less than the number found on Facebook — as well as Pinterest, LinkedIn and Twitter — but the site is still the number one place for bloggers and others to go for free photos. Getty’s Flickr collection of commercial images now contains more than 120,000 photos.

But despite the ability to tag and keyword images, search on the site has never been more than basic. While stock companies allow buyers to browse by category, suggest keywords and offer attributes, Flickr searchers have to know exactly what they’re looking for — and hope that it’s been tagged properly.

Make Flickr easier for image users to find photos — and far easier than images are to find on Facebook — and they might discover more photographers. That might bring back more photographers hoping to be discovered.

  1. Free the Developers

The most important thing that Marissa Mayer can do though is to let Flickr’s people get on with it. Flickr was once innovative, fun and cool. Its APIs produced a host of neat additions and its Explore algorithm that picked the best pictures each day was simple, clever and good enough to churn up plenty of inspiring images.

Does anyone believe that had Flickr’s team been free to develop the site without needing everything to be rubberstamped by Yahoo, it wouldn’t have produced all the basic functions described here itself? Even if it hadn’t done, its users and developers would have.

Flickr needs to catch up. It needs to add the mobile functions that have allowed Instagram to beat it on the move. It needs to add the social functions that have allowed Facebook to take its photo-sharing features. And it needs to develop the search function that will bring in the image users who in turn will bring back the photographers.

And then it needs to develop the original, innovative functions that it used to do so well and which will allow it to move ahead. Then Flickr will be awesome again.

Photographers Fight Over Charity Donations


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.

Which Images to Give?

Cole Thompson, a fine art photographer who works in black and white, receives requests for donated images around once a month, agreeing to about half of them. Each donation requires looking through his stock of printed images to find something suitable to offer.

“Because time is my most precious and scarce commodity, I donate something that I already have printed and ready to go,” he says. “Often it will be one of my previously exhibited prints, they are in excellent condition but I cannot sell them as a new print.  The harder question is; do I donate one of my top selling images or one that doesn’t move as well and has been sitting in my gallery?”

His motivation for donating is always two-fold: he gets to support a worthy cause and at the same times raises the exposure of his art to bring in new sales. It should be a win-win situation. Since reading an article sent to him by a friend last year, though, he’s been reconsidering.

The article, written by Matt Gleason in the Huffington post last August, argued that photographers shouldn’t be giving away their works, not even to charities.

“Don’t ever donate your art to a charity auction again,” Gleason warns photographers. “Half a century of charity art auctions have changed the way collectors buy art. These fundraisers have depressed prices of art across the board and kept artists in a subordinate position that has no career upside or benefits.”

Boycotting art auctions, the article claims, stops money from leaving the art world, helps artists to maintain the value of their work and lowers the chances that a photograph that might go for a large sum in a gallery sale will be seen publicly receiving no bids at an event not attended by collectors. Charity art auctions, Gleason states, depress the value of photographic art.

The counterargument, he continues, doesn’t add up. Even when a sale raises money for a good cause, much of the revenue will be eaten up in the costs of organizing and publicizing the event. The tax benefit for the photographer is minimal; the Inland Revenue only allows photographers to deduct the value of the materials — a negligible amount — not the value of the image on those materials. (A collector, on the other hand, can write off the entire retail value of an artwork they’ve bought.)

And worst of all, the publicity benefits that should translate into future sales and make the donation worthwhile rarely, if ever, pan out.

“I would love to hear the story of the artist whose career rocketed to success because he or she donated a work to a charity auction and this act alone tipped the first domino toward an avalanche of success coming his or her way,” says Gleason. “This narrative is always implied. I’ve never seen it happen.”

That was certainly Cole Thompson’s experience. He says that he has seen no evidence that any of his donations have increased his sales. In fact, auction organizers often take artists for granted, fail to tell them the amounts for which their works sold or give feedback on their choice of print. Cole received back one unsold work to find that it had not been taken care of properly and was in “terrible condition.”

Forget About the Marketing

Cole’s discussion of Gleason’s article on his blog raised something of a storm. Some commenters stuck to Cole’s original belief that donated images both help a good cause and raise a photographer’s profile. Others looked at the low amounts that donated works often raise, question how much of that actually reaches the charity and, when they compare it to the cost of the materials used to make the pieces, wonder whether they shouldn’t have simply donated cash instead.

The one consistent point that runs through all the arguments in favor of photographers supporting charity auctions though is that donating should do some good — and that’s the only reason that anyone should help a charity.

Cole began the discussion on his blog with the confession that he didn’t know where he stood on the issue. He now says that he still donates, but only to local causes, to causes for which he feels a passion, and where he believes that the sale of one of his prints will make a difference. He doesn’t expect the second win of what he used to see as a win-win proposition will materialize:

“I no longer consider how the exposure will help me, simply because I don’t think that happens very often.  Better to be realistic and donate because you want to help others and because you believe in the cause.”

What do you think? When should photographers donate their art and their services to charity auctions?

What Buyers Want from Photographers


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.

“It’s one thing to show off your range, but another to position yourself as a ‘jack of all trades,’” explains Andrew Fingerman, Photoshelter’s CEO. “Instead be seen as a specialist and the buyer will have an easier time mentally and physically categorizing you for future work.”

Those complaints aren’t new although it is remarkable that photographers are still slowing their website with unnecessary extras and failing to market themselves clearly. A new trend though has also been raising the hackles of photo buyers: the habit among some photographers of sending a marketing email to a buyer with an email whose subject line begins “re:”. The aim is to dupe the buyer into believing that the message is part of an ongoing exchange. It’s a tactic straight out of the spammer’s handbook — and the messages are treated with the same contempt.

The Power of Email

That photographers are using email for direct marketing was also surprising. Asked where they turn when they need a photographer, 66 percent of the survey’s respondents said they ask a colleague for a recommendation. But the next most popular places to look were emails from photographers, photography representatives and agencies, and photography websites.

Nearly half of the respondents, in fact, said that when they need a photographer, they turn to their inbox.

Those high figures may be the result of survey bias. Agency Access, whose database of buyers was used to conduct the survey, specializes in email marketing. The recipients of its emails are used to receiving marketing messages and acting on them. A broader survey might have produced a lower figure but the willingness with which buyers accept photographers who turn to them directly and without solicitation is encouraging — but only if they do it right. That means targeting each pitch to the buyer and explaining why you’d make a match for their magazine or agency.

“Again and again, buyers told us that they often receive pitches from photographers who have clearly never looked into who they are or what kind of photography they commission or license,” says Andrew Fingerman. “The photo editor at Scuba Diving Magazine summed this up perfectly in saying, ‘Photographers need to take the time to research who they are sending their work to. I am the photo editor for Scuba Diving Magazine. I have no need for fashion photography.’”

Social Media Is Not a First Stop, It’s a Constant Source

But while email marketing has proved surprisingly effective, social media, despite its hype, is not a popular place for image buyers — at least not as a place for first contact. Only 9 percent of respondents said that they turn to a social media platform when they want to hire a photographer.

Those that do use social media though, use it in different ways and have found it remarkably effective.

Flickr remains popular with book publishers, despite the rise of Instagram, but buyers in other industries now focus on Facebook. LinkedIn, which was the most popular social media platform among buyers in 2011, is now in third place after Facebook and Pinterest.

But while fewer than one buyer in ten will turn to social media as their first stop when they need a photographer, nearly one in four respondents overall said that they had discovered a new photographer on a social media site, with more than half finding them on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform. Broken down by category, 59 percent of buyers from advertising agencies, 72 percent from editorial publications and 63 percent from design agencies said that they had discovered photography talent through Facebook.

According to  Andrew Fingerman, the difference between the reluctance to search for a photographer on Facebook and the success buyers are having on the site can be explained by the way buyers are using the service.

“Anecdotally, we hear that while social media may not be the first resource a buyer will use to find new talent, social media for many buyers is a powerful platform for keeping tabs on the photographers they’ve worked with. With this in mind, maintaining a freshness of posts – regularly sharing your own work and other valuable content – will pay off because it keeps you on the radar of former contacts and clients.”

Photographers need to make sure that their websites are simple to navigate, non-Flash, fast and have clear contact information.

If they’re not already pitching for jobs by email, they should be considering it and writing pitches that are targeted to the buyer and explain why they’re the right person for that agency or publication.

And they should be active on social media, and especially Facebook, updating their status regularly so that buyers can see who they are and keep track of what they’re doing.

And they should do all of these things because of what may be the most important statistic in the whole survey. Asked what was happening with their buying budgets, 78 percent of respondents said that the money they had available had either stayed the same or grown in comparison to 2011.

Figuring out what buyers want from photographers might be difficult. But it’s not hard to know what photographers want from buyers.

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