This is probably the most commonly asked question out there by people interested in selling their work. The short answer to this is “none of them” if you have to ask someone else this question. By none of them, I mean that if you don’t have a clear plan for what you hope to accomplish and already have a basic knowledge of who the players are in stock photography then you should hold off until you figure it all out. If you don’t have a vision for your own business / career then how could anyone else know for you?
There are other issues that should be answered before this comes up as well. What are your long-term goals? Is your work appropriate for stock photo sales? Who do you think will use your photos? How will you reach these people? Do you have the work ethic and commitment to do the mundane stuff day-in and day-out?
In the previous segments of “Developing Your Photography Brand”, I discussed targeting, marketing campaigns, perception of value, and the evaluation of business climate. This time, I’ll discuss the core purpose for branding: brand identity.
Having a solid brand identity is generally what gets people excited about buying stuff. Lets be honest. If you took the photos from 1,000 professional photographers and tossed them into a random pile very few would truly be unique and significantly more interesting than another’s, ex. large stock photo agency sites. However when you look through a photographer website that is branded effectively the viewing experience is vastly greater than viewing your average corporate stock photo agency website. Or to take another analogy, what makes you decide to buy one liquid hand soap product over another? Strip the labels from the bottle and they look pretty boring but attach a nicely designed label and then you feel an emotional connection to the brand.
How you develop your brand identity needs to carry over into all of your messaging from the way you write your blog to the way that photos are presented to the way you act in social media platforms like Twitter. If your photo blog is written like a glorified press release then who the hell wants to read it? Certainly that is not the way to gain a following. You want to portray yourself as having a personality not a robot. People respond best to those who come across as personable.
If you were to sum up your brand personality in one phrase what would it be? Edgy, cool, square, corporate, down to earth? Corporate is the worst in my opinion. That is just as bad as having none at all. Be consistent. Be human. If you want to have an edgy brand, then talk about the photos but use some modern slang here and there, find ways to name drop your favorite rock band if you feel that will help solidify your photography brand identity. When it comes to marketing you can’t just focus on the obvious, you have to think outside of the box.
Many photographers use a photo as their logo. Bad choice. I don’t know of any successful brand that uses a photo as their logo. The reason is that a graphic illustration is much simpler and clean. You want to convey your brand personality as quickly as possible. I think editorial and commercial photographers are the worst at branding. They are so focused on doing what has worked for others in the past to where they neglect the fundamental basics to effective marketing. The photographers who tend to be best at branding are wedding photographers. They have to because they deal with the general public so they adopt mainstream marketing tactics. Even if you can’t stomach the idea of being a wedding photographer, you should really take a look at the successful ones and see how they are promoting themselves. It is a real eye-opener.
As for photographers in my genre, the ones who get it were Galen Rowell and Art Wolfe among others. It wasn’t just their images that propelled them to success, it was the manner in which they connected with their fans. Galen’s writing about his wild adventures made him famous. Art Wolfe’s work is all over the mainstream media. I’m sure both built businesses with stock imagery but they also realized there is a much bigger market out there in selling prints in galleries, doing workshops, writing, lecturing and being a visible personality. This allowed them to diversify. So rather than spend all day bitching about Getty Images, develop your own ideas and sell them. Don’t be content with just relying on others to market for you. You are a brand, not just a photographer. Photographers are boring.
I’ve been pretty busy as of late, but I’ve been wanting to test some new business strategies. Here is one of them:
I’ve been ranking highly on the search engines for things like “environmental pictures“, “environment pollution pictures”, “photos of environmental issues”. Currently this month, I’ve received over 100 searches for these terms and nearly 1,000 views for this page alone so I was thinking of ways to capitalize on this traffic. As you know, environmental topics are at the forefront of the news these days and will increasingly continue to be so I’m thinking that this could be a great opportunity.
If anyone has any opinions about this, I would appreciate if you would fill out this poll.
For a digital imaging 101 topic, it is surprising to see how much chromatic aberration makes it onto the printed page. You can pretty much look at any publication from Sports Illustrated to your regional lifestyle magazine and see a heavy dose of chromatic aberration in a fair amount of the images. It looks really bad and amateurish! So please I am urging you to have higher quality control standards in regards to professional photography. I am sick of seeing chromatic aberration in reputable publications, and even in some photography galleries.
If you don’t know what chromatic aberration is, it is the red, blue and/or purple “bleeding” on the high contrast edges of a photo. Good lenses have less of this but digital cameras seem to play a role in this as well. Usually it can be eliminated in Adobe Camera RAW. On really poor lenses however, minimizing the amount of CA is usually the best you can do. If ACR doesn’t work for you, then you can try PT Lens which only costs $15, or some other 3rd party software to fix your lens distortions.
Sometimes you can’t avoid it all together but if a big purple halo is in places that obviously shouldn’t have any purple then you’ve got to ask yourself are you doing all that you can to produce the best file possible? Attention to details such as this should separate a professional photographer from a hobbyist or snapshooter but unfortunately that is not always the case.