The Most Important Facts You Need to Know About Photo Buyers


Breaking into the photography market should be simple: photo editors at magazines, art buyers at ad firms, designers at marketing firms all need images. If you can shoot a beautiful picture that meets one of their needs all you have to do is swap permission to use your photo for a nice, fat check. The only thing that photographers really need to know about image buyers is that they need good quality shots that they can put in ads, at the top of articles and in brochures; the rest is detail. At least three of those details though are vital. They might not be as important as the image itself but they are powerful enough to kill off what should be a lucrative picture sale. Professional photographers know them — and it’s that knowledge as much as the quality of their photography that marks them as professionals, wins them sales and leads to commissions.

  1. Buyers Want to Purchase Fast

Two platforms have democratized the photography market more than any other: Flickr and iStock. Only one of those platforms though has developed into a successful business model with a turnover of sales worth millions of dollars and an inventory so huge it’s suffering from saturation. The best images at Flickr might be more interesting and more varied than the most commercial shots on a microstock site but they’re so hard to find and so hard to buy that it’s Getty’s subsidiary that’s attracting the buyers.

An editor looking for an image of a “beach,” for example, will be offered more than 400,000 results on iStock. On Flickr, he’ll get over 22 million, including shots that range from unusual sunrises to screenshots from CNN. Having sorted through variations on a theme of azure skies and white sands on iStock, the editor has to do no more than push a couple of buttons to use a pile of credits and download the image. The search might take a little while but the purchase is immediate and the usage can start right away. On Flickr, not only will a search through a wider variety of images take longer but the buying process will take even longer still. The photographer has to be contacted directly, usually by email, leaving the buyer uncertain whether he’ll receive a reply or when that reply will come in.

“I’ve had several instances where people on those sites were hiding behind aliases and either don’t check their comments, PMs or email, or they just don’t believe we are offering them money to use their photos or may think we are scamming them somehow,” one designer informed us in response to a question on a buyers’ forum.

The result is that they often don’t bother. Forced to balance the risk that they won’t get a response at all or in time, and the certainty offered by a microstock platform, buyers often sacrifice an interesting image they might never receive for the certainly of service that guarantees delivery of the product.

Show that you can act like a professional — even if you’re not one — by promising to respond quickly, and you’ll go a long way towards meeting one of your buyer’s most important needs.

  1. Buyers Want to Put You in a Box

When a buyer has found an image he wants to use, he’ll want to know he can buy it and get to work on the design straight away. But he also wants to know that his next search for a similar image will go quickly too. If he can feel that a photographer he used once can always supply images with a look that matches his publication or his client’s style, he won’t just have found an image; he’ll have found a source of future images too.

That’s because buyers don’t just need images. They need particular kinds of images covering particular subjects and shot in a particular way.

A strong opening splash image that demonstrates the photographer’s skill and style is paramount,” an art director at an editorial publication told Photoshelter’s Buyer Survey earlier this year. “A photographer’s work separated into galleries by clearly labeled categories is also helpful – I can choose to focus on the subject or style that I am seeking.”

You don’t have to limit yourself to shooting just one kind of image in one way for your entire career. But if you can let a buyer with consistent demand believe that you can deliver images in a consistent style, you’ll get repeat sales.

  1. Buyers Want to Talk About You

Photoshelter’s Buyer’s Survey did more than underline the emphasis editors place on a clear style. It also showed that the first place they look to find photographers who can deliver that reliability is their colleagues. Two-thirds of the buyers surveyed said that they ask other buyers for a recommendation when they’re looking for a photographer.

That means that an enquiry about an image shouldn’t be treated as a chance to make a sale. The request has to be seen as an interview about producing a series of images to sell not just to that buyer but to that buyer’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances.

Sell one image to a buyer, and you’ve always got a chance of finding that your name is passing along a network and bringing in more sales and even paid commissions.

You don’t have to ask for those recommendations (although it won’t do any harm.) You just have to prove your reliability. You need to show that you can create high-quality images. You need to show that you’ll be responsive to enquiries and easy to work with. When that happens, your buyer will have a name to supply the next time a colleague asks them if they know anyone who can shoot images like yours.

They’ll be able to share the contact details of a photographer who might not be a professional but who knows buyers well enough to be able to act like one.

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