Sell More Than Your Photography Skills


In an environment as competitive as the photo industry, photographers need all the advantages they can get — including specialized knowledge. Expertise in f-stops and exposure times is pretty common and while talent might be rarer, there’s no shortage of enthusiasts who can shoot great pictures time after time. Now that they can make those images available online, through stock sites, their own sites or even through Flickr, anyone looking to make money from their images should be wondering what else they can bring to the market that can help them win customers.

Fortunately, the photography world is filled with examples of people who matched a passion for a field outside photography with a love of picture-making to enable their images to reach a niche market.

Sometimes, that passion doesn’t have to be much more than membership in a particular community. CreationSwap, for example, is a stock site with a number of unusual features. Its inventory is a mixture of free images, stock images that usually sell for between $1 and $6 (although some images may cost as much $20), and a print-on-demand service that returns $10 to the artist for each print order. Royalties for contributors begin at 50 percent but rise by between 1 and 5 percent for each approved item submitted to the site’s free gallery to a maximum of 70 percent.

That incentive, as well as the print option, are unusual enough, but as the site’s name suggests, CreationSwap is appealing to a particular kind of market — and to a particular kind of photographer. The inventory is aimed at churches and religious groups, and the site looks for contributions from Christian artists worldwide.

Clearly, there’s no way for the site to be able to check the faith of its contributors but members of Christian communities and consumers of church media are more likely to understand the sorts of images — the Fourth of July, Easter, Christmas and Sermon Series shots — that churches need.

There may be millions of Christians who know how to use a camera but by combining knowledge of the community to which they belong with their understanding of photography, religious photographers have an advantage when it comes to supplying the media that serves that community.

Both Creation and Evolution are Good for Photographers

Science and religion are usually portrayed as antagonists but when it comes to photography, they have a lot in common. Just as religious photographers have an advantage in some areas of the photography marketplace, the same is true of those photographers with an understanding of science.

PhotoResearchers is a stock site that specializes in scientific imagery. Its clients are mainly publishers of science textbooks as well as marketing companies looking for images to promote science conferences and other events. From those with a good understanding of science though, the site requires two kinds of assets that are otherwise hard to find.

Knowledge is one. While a picture of a flower on a stock site might be described solely as “Purple flower in a field,” the same flower on PhotoResearchers is more likely to include the flower’s name, Latin name and any special features. This flower, for example, is described as:

Bladderwort, Utricularia dichotoma, flower. This aquatic plant has underwater “bladders” that trap and digest small aquatic organisms.

That picture used for a week in a quarter-page event ad to be seen by up to 5,000 people would cost $569 — far more than a small shot of a purple flower would fetch on a microstock site. For images like these, it’s the knowledge as much as the photography that gives the image its value.

The same is true of access. Many of the PhotoResearchers’ photos show either expensive scientific equipment or the results of using that expensive scientific equipment. Those kinds of photographs can only be taken by people who have access to laboratories and can obtain the permissions necessary to shoot in them.

Again, like Christian photographers, there’s no shortage of scientists who are keen on photography but when they combine their two areas of expertise they bring photo buyers a quality of imagery that gives it extra value.

An Eye for Fashion and Photography

Sometimes though, you don’t even have to try to combine a passion for a non-photography field with expertise with a camera. Scott Schuman was a director of men’s fashion when he took time off to care for his daughter in 2005. Taking his camera with him on walks around New York, it was only natural that he would find himself pointing his lens at the people on the streets with the most impressive dress sense. He’d put their pictures on his blog and add a few comments about their sense of fashion. The aim, he said, was to try to shoot style in the way that most designers hunted for inspiration.

His blog, The Sartorialist, soon became essential reading for fashionistas, and Schuman found himself in demand from a number of fashion companies hoping to use his style of photography. He’s produced advertising campaigns for The Gap, DKNY Jeans and Burberry, has worked with Vogue and during Paris Fashion Week as well as with a number of businesses outside the world of fashion such as Verizon and Nespresso. An anthology of his favorite shots was published in 2009 in a book entitled The Sartorialist.

Schuman’s success may owe something to the zeitgeist for shooting anywhere and anytime but mostly it’s down to his eye for style and fashion and his ability to capture them in an image.

To make money from photography, you always need to know how to handle a camera — and you need to have right camera to handle. You’ll need talent and a photographic eye but all of those things are relatively common. If you can also add knowledge, access, experience or expertise that’s rarer and harder to find to your skills as a photographer, you should find that it’s a lot easier to turn your photography ability into cash.

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