Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Misinformation: Business Tech
Photographs are more than just prints to be sold
In November, stock photo agency Corbis bought the crowd-sourcing site Demotix, whose content is provided largely by a maelstrom of independent photojournalists and "smartphone" photographers. When it comes to breaking news, the success of Twitter and Instagram has made it readily apparent to the mainstream media that the immediacy of smartphones will trump the quality of a DSLR and often the relevancy of facts and even context.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, as successful photojournalists and event and sports photographers are certainly capable of producing engaging Instagram and Twitter feeds while at the same time turning out long-form photo essays. The problem is that many established photographers have been slow on the uptake when it comes to the potential of the mobile space, and at the same time proper accreditation and remuneration for imagery is being stripped. This often means that the only ones making money from our hard work are the app developers and device makers.
Myth: You Can't Monetize Social MediaBut taste in social media is also very fickle. For this reason, the most viable use for social media is to bring eyes back to your own website, which is very important to maintain as a central hub for all of the other potential venues available for showcasing your work. Remember, social media is a multi-way conversation, and just as creatives have their own accounts, businesses, media, galleries and museums also present their own feeds to follow and engage. Signal to noise matters, and (admittedly with some exceptions) consistently top-notch work will attract a following. For coverage of Hurricane Sandy, TIME magazine, for example, hired five photographers—Michael Christopher Brown, Benjamin Lowy, Ed Kashi, Andrew Quilty and Stephen Wilkes—to continually update TIME's Instagram feed with fresh imagery of the storm.
This gave readers across the world a way to stay updated while the storm was still happening; of course, the flip side of this was that a majority of published imagery on websites and even newspapers during the storm came from citizen photojournalists, which centered largely on fallen trees and flooded streets. This is further evidence that the run-and-gun crowd shouldn't feel threatened by one-off success stories of cover images and editorial that have been captured with smartphones, but rather should be learning from this by looking at social media as a way to bring the same editorial eyes to their own practiced body of work.
There are also practical, more direct ways in which social media can make you money, but in short, you can do almost anything with an image from your smartphone that you can do with an image from your camera. Numerous art galleries throughout the country have been embracing smartphone photography with fine-art exhibitions alongside prints for sale. Behind-the-scene shots and blogs are a great promotional tool for getting fans and potential clients excited about upcoming projects and prints being prepared for sale, and they're also useful for tech-savvy photographers to engage other photographers and peers who are interested in gear, technique and equipment.
You also have plenty to offer the new class of citizen photographers by teaching them the fundamentals of photography through online videos, workshops, presentations, classes and courses. Contests are one of the best ways to engage your fan base and to drum up secondary sales by bringing traffic to your site, and there are several ecommerce websites that allow you to sell your imagery in an assortment of ways, and even limited-resolution smartphone photos can be sold as prints, photo books or printed to any number of tangible products like T-shirts and stickers. Several outlets include CafePress, DigiLabs, efotolab, Etsy, Fine Art America, Fotomoto, PhotoDeck, PhotoShelter, Shutterfly, SimplePhoto, SmugMug, Zazzle, Zenfolio, Photoreflect from Express Digital Graphics and even eBay.
Like the rest of photography, success in these areas will depend on how much time and effort you put into overseeing the process. Instagram makes it simple to produce compelling images, most of which are then quickly set aside as disposable. What we're experiencing in many ways is a paradigm shift as a photograph becomes less a "thing" to be sold and displayed, or a singular event to be captured, but instead a living, breathing and continuously updating art form that's as entertaining as it is a way to communicate with each other through visual means. This ability to tell a story through imagery is what always has set apart better photographers from their peers, and even if the tools are changing, this essential difference will continue to be fundamental to success as a photographer whether shooting with medium format or literally from the hip.