Field Report:

The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography

Creative Industry Evolution and Extinction

I found this Fast Company article titled, Mayhem on Madison Avenue, to be a fascinating read. As a former ad industry creative, this really came as no surprise to me as I had realized that most of the creatives at the ad agency I worked several years ago had no idea about digital much less had experience with blogging, SEO, social media, etc…  Such was the case at the other places I worked at following that agency. The sad part was that no one figured their career path might be going extinct. Well that day is has already arrived according to this article.

Sue, the T-Rex at the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois

Sue, the T-Rex at the Field Museum, Chicago, Illinois

The article cites agencies struggling to price work in the digital era because clients want more work but are willing to pay less for the work. Various business models have popped up in the meantime including crowd-sourcing ad creative. The “race to the bottom” if you will. Ten years ago when all media spend was limited to print, broadcast and radio it was easy to work in the industry because reaching people was rather formulaic and several large holding companies owned all the advertising spend. No longer. There are a million different ways to reach the consumer now and for the consumer to receive content. “Competition” is popping up in all sorts of places that never existed previously.

Sound familiar? Yes. The photography industry has already been heading down this path for ten years now as you already know. You can literally swap out the words ad agency for Getty / Corbis and photographers and write the same story.

Having only been a photographer during the internet-era, however, I feel there has never been a more exciting time to be a creative person because of all these reasons. My photography website for example reaches tens of thousands of visitors per month and I have about 1,000 more people that I reach on a daily basis via the social media sites I’m on. Had the internet not been around when I started photography, I probably never would have even bothered to try sharing my work much less talk about it because what audience would I have – family, local camera club, a stock photo agent, and a few clients? There’s not a lot of people where I live that are into outdoors and the type of photography I do.

Had this been 15 years ago, I’d probably have a few photos hanging on display in the local library, setting up a booth at weekend farmer’s markets and art fairs, be on the phone all day cold-calling and maybe consider running some print ads in advertising award annuals with no guarantee of success but a lot of money out of my pocket. But this is 2010 and here are two sites I have had an opportunity to be featured on in the past week:

Pro Nature Photographer – a website about the business of nature photography written by long-time industry vet, Charlie Borland.

The Rogue’s Gallery – an art website for current and former ad industry professionals curated by Steffan Postaer (ad god and creator of the Altoids ad campaign).

Who knows if I’ll get any direct benefit from getting my work on these sites but I know who reads these sites and those are the types of people I’m looking to reach. When you simplify the new technology down to that level, basic marketing principles have not changed at all. It is actually easier than ever to reach people and obtain any sort of metric you could imagine that was never available previously. You can cut it up so many different ways from checking referrer sites in your web analytics and tying that to geographic data, to seeing who comments on the sites, to which organic search terms people found your site via the search engines, to seeing Quantcast demographic info about any site out there. Any webmaster in the world can create a media kit and sell to advertisers now. You could create a media kit so detailed that it would bore even the most anal media buyer. This is powerful stuff at our disposal.

To conclude, there are some ad execs who get it though just like there are some photographers who get it.

December 6, 2010 Posted by | Marketing, Photo Business, rants, Technology, Web | , , , , | Leave a comment

Social Media Monitoring for Photographers

With the growing popularity of online social networking / chatter / media whatever you want to call it, information has never been more readily available for photographers. If you want to know what any particular demographic is looking for or talking about then there are software applications out there that help you do this research. For a marketer this is information that companies paid millions in research for in the past. For you and I, the small business owner, it costs nothing.

Take Twitter for example, which is characterized by it’s fast-paced speed of updates. Mainstream news outlets like broadcast news, newspapers and the radio aren’t even the first to break stories these days. Often times the story has spread virally via Twitter before any mainstream media outlets catch wind of it. Now imagine being able to listen in on any subject of discussion on the Internet like Superman. You don’t need a stock agency wants list anymore. Those will be outdated by the time they are published. The information is already out there for the taking. Experienced photographers should be able to gather a lot of useful information from adopting these new methods if they embrace the technology. Be creative. Think creatively.

There are applications out there such as TweetDeck that allow you to not only interact with your friends on Twitter, but you can customize searches around specific terms and see what people on Twitter are talking about in real-time. Keep one column active for the search term “stock photography” and it is fairly obvious that many people (especially photographers) out there are woefully uninformed about the photo licensing industry. Even more telling is the amount of people who expect to find great photography for little to no money. If you can stomach this type of dialogue for long enough you will also find gems in there such as a photo buyer who tweets about having difficulties while looking for a specific image. Maybe you are that person who can help them out. Be sure to know what you are talking about though. Know the value of your work to the end user. If you have the right image at the right time then the buyer should be willing to pay what’s necessary for it. A twist on the old saying, you get paid only what you ask for.

TweetDeck Social Monitoring Example

TweetDeck Social Monitoring Example

Market research is just one of the many other uses for social media monitoring which includes PR activities such as reputation management but that is a huge topic all on its own.

Updated 5/11/09: As requested, here are some other apps you might want to try for social media monitoring –

twirl
PageFlakes
SM2
Raven

April 30, 2009 Posted by | Marketing, stock photography, Technology, Web | , , , , | 6 Comments

Location Scouting – Google Earth

Google Earth Image of Morro Bay

Google Earth Image of Morro Bay

Prior to the internet, photographers were most likely to have discovered photo locations by consulting with topographical maps, scouting by foot, looking at photo books, postcard racks, taking guided tours or word of mouth. Those methods are still valid today but there are many more tools at our disposal now due to the internet. Google Earth is one of the more interesting tools.

Google Earth combines the geographical contours of topo maps with real life satellite imagery and pictures from photographers that have embedded GPS coordinates into their meta data. It is really amazing to be able to “scout” photo locations from the comfort of your living room or even while parked on a sidewalk if you can find a Wi-Fi connection. Anytime you pre-visualize a scene that you aren’t quite sure if or where to make it happen, you can type in the location in Google Earth and search around the landscape to see if it is possible. This can save you a lot of time and even help find locations you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

One of the most useful features for photographers is that you can set what time of day you want to see the landscape and the program will render the light to show you what you can expect to see at sunrise for example. You can also check the atmosphere option and it will take into account how the atmospheric conditions affect the lighting.

Google Earth Picture of Morro Rock at Sunrise

Google Earth Picture of Morro Rock at Sunrise

I played around with the program several years back but didn’t find much use for it because the renderings weren’t detailed enough. I took another look recently however and the satellite imagery appears to be much more comprehensive and detailed now in many locations. Google Earth is a tool that I intend to use more frequently when preparing for photo shoots. In fact, I found out about this scenic vantage point to photograph Morro Rock through Google Earth and intend to go there on my next visit.

January 23, 2009 Posted by | shooting pictures, Technology, Web | , , | 2 Comments

Olympus DS-30 Digital Voice Recorder Review

Pros: Small enough to fit into any pocket. Decent sound quality. “CD-quality” sound for small budgets.

Cons: No belt clip. No wind sock. Lecture recording mode sometimes makes voices sound digital. No recording volume control.

Olympus DS-30 Digital Voice Recorder

Olympus DS-30 Digital Voice Recorder

After having tested the Olympus DS-30 Digital Recorder for several weeks in a variety of photography shooting situations, I have mixed reviews about it for the type of work that I do. Since I mainly photograph outdoors and generally moving around in non-controlled shooting conditions, the limitations are fairly obvious. Without a belt clip, the sensitive microphone picks up a rustling sound every time I move around due to being in my shirt pocket. Since the device is too small for a wind sock, having a belt clip would be useless anyway because wind would be a factor outdoors particularly in coastal areas.

The plus sides are numerous as well. If you are planning on staying at one place for a while then the sound quality is generally excellent for the $100 price tag. The device is really simple to use and uploads the .wmv files onto my PC like an external hard drive.

Overall: I plan to return the Olympus DS-30 before my 30 days are up. If you are a college student, podcaster or a reporter that wants to jot down notes then this would be excellent for you. For a photographer that works in the field, the only option is to go for models that have a belt clip and dedicated wind sock. Unfortunately those models are a little pricier.

Examples: Girls Having Fun, Venice Beach Drum Circle

Griffith Observatory Planetarium, Los Angeles, California

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, Product Reviews, Technology | , , , | Leave a comment

FocalPower CEO, Greg Lato Interview

Greg Lato Portrait

FocalPower CEO, Greg Lato Portrait

FocalPower is developing a Digital Asset Management service to assist photographers with today’s challenges of sharing, protecting, and managing their photos online. Find out what FocalPower CEO, Greg Lato has to say about this.

There are several other competing services out there such as Digital Railroad, Photoshelter Archive, and IPNStock, as well as software solutions such as Lightbox Photo. How does FocalPower plan to differentiate itself from these other companies?

FocalPower has a vision that we are executing against. Since we are still in a pre-launch phase I can’t go into great detail about that vision other than to state that it includes helping photographers save time in managing their photo assets online while providing various ways for the photographer to earn revenue from their photo assets. Unlike the competing services you mentioned, which are focused on pushing their own brand and creating yet another repository where you photos have to be managed, FocalPower’s initial release will be focused on the photographer, their photographic brand, and a simple yet flexible way of managing your photos for online sharing.

Alcatraz Island in Fog, San Francisco

Alcatraz Island in Fog, San Francisco

FocalPower seems to be on the opposite side of the spectrum of photo sharing compared to say, Flickr, which some would say has a flawed system when dealing with copyrighted photos. Give us your take on image protection and file sharing.

There has definitely been a storm brewing for a while on the topic of photographer’s rights. I have seen this coming for a while and I doubt that the latest eruption around Fickr will be the last. You’re right in that unlike Flickr, and other community-based photo sharing sites, FocalPower is targeting a different segment of the photography market.

FocalPower’s take on photo protection is quite simple: let the photographer decide how they want to license their work and then help the photographer enforce that decision. While it’s true that no photograph available online is 100% safe from right abuse, there is more that can be done to help photographers protect their photo assets. FocalPower is working on a means of providing license-based protection for photos stored on the FocalPower system. But again, it will be an option that photographers can choose from based upon how they license their photos.

Unlike most photo sharing services available today, which provide very structured and rigid frameworks for sharing photos, FocalPower’s photo sharing is a widget-based approach that allows a photographer to upload and organize their photos centrally while sharing them across multiple sites or blogs. With the explosion of personal photography networks springing up around blogs, FocalPower’s widget-based approach enables photographers to share their photos on their blog and their website, or multiple blogs and multiple websites targeted to their vertical markets.

One thing that you didn’t mention, that you have written about on the blog, is the aspect of a photographer’s brand. We are also working on a way to extending the photographer’s brand along with their photos as they are shared to multiple sites. Recently there has been an interest explosion of a single photographer creating vertical branded sites or blogs, FocalPower would allow that photographer to centrally manage their photos while selectively sharing photos to each site. So the same controls and branding can be applied to all of the photographer’s photo regardless of where it is viewed.

Boulders and Stairs

Boulders and Stairs

When can we expect to FocalPower to open to the public?

FocalPower is currently in a closed testing period while we finalize the infrastructure and flush out the initial feature set with the help of our early testers. Our initial testers have been great at providing us feedback, ideas, and support. Our goal is to release a public beta of the initial service toward the end of this year. Keep an eye for an expanded and redesigned website and announcements before we launch.

We have been keeping the initial testing group to a focused and manageable size. However, we are at the stage where we could use more testers. So, I have a surprise for your readers…the first 20 readers who contact us via the address on the FocalPower website and request to be an early stage testers will get an account (just reference this blog posting). Keep in mind that we are still in development and we are looking for testers to use the system and let us know the good and the bad; user feedback is crucial.

Landscape Beach Chairs

Landscape Beach Chairs

Tell us about your background in photography and how it led to the establishment of FocalPower.

I got my start in photography over 20 years ago when my brother-in-law gave me my first SLR camera. It was the creative nature of photography that clicked with me right away. Over the years, my photography interests waxed and waned as a creative outlet when time allowed. When I discovered digital photography about eight years ago everything seemed to lock in place and photography became a passion. There was something about the ability to realize the images that I saw in my minds eye through the use of the digital dark room. Having the control over the photos through the computer, something that I have a professional background in, was the key for me.

Whether you’re a professional, enthusiast or hobbyist, a core aspect of photography is sharing your work with others. A few years back I was searching for a more automated way of sharing my photos online. This was just during the beginning of online photo sharing/hosting revolution. Flickr was in its infancy, but the lack of control over my photos was a sticking point for me. Personally, I see my photos as an asset and take all efforts to protect those assets. I also see my photos as being the key to my photography brand, yet most of the services available don’t allow me to reinforce my brand—they are more interested in using my photos to help push their own brand, even when I’m paying for the service.

Now, with the explosion of social networks, blogs and forums there are more and more ways for a photographer to gain exposure of their work and build an audience around their brand. Yet, there are no good solutions for making this process easy for the photographer while protecting their photo assets. With each site having their own way to deal with photographs, and their own Terms of Services around the photographs that get uploaded, a photographer has to take a huge risk and invest a lot of time to leverage these outlets. Creating a time conflict between sharing photos creating more photos.

After discussing these issues with many other photographers, listening their needs, and brainstorming with several talented people, one of my closest photographer friends started pushing me. “You have to go build this,” was what he kept saying. Once I said, “You’re right,” FocalPower was born.

Any photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?

Unfortunately for my personal photography, my available time has been focused on building FocalPower. However, I still carry my camera around with me just about everywhere and even manage to take some photos occasionally! It’s getting around to the processing those photos that has been the challenge.

Recently, I managed to burn some extra midnight oil to launch my new personal photography website and blog: Latoga Photography. I also have some weekend photo trips planned this fall for the Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Eastern Sierra Nevadas. Then there is a long term Photo Art project I have been chipping away at called “Night Putting” (pun intended), once FocalPower is launched I hope to be able to get back to that and processing my photo backlog.

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss FocalPower with your readers. You’ve done a great job creating some timely content for photographers and about photographers. Keep up the great work!

To find out more information about FocalPower visit the website: www.focalpower.com

September 8, 2008 Posted by | Interviews, Technology, Web | , , , | 1 Comment

Social Networking Websites: A Waste of Time for Photographers, or a Smart Investment?

Popular Social Networking Methods: Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Digg, AIM, blogging, podcasts, LinkedIn, Ning, Plaxo, Pownce, StumbleUpon, online forums, etc…

Are these worth the time if you are trying to market your photography? It depends on what your business plan is. If you use the internet to generate leads for your business, then some of them might be worth your time if you have a clear idea for who you plan to reach. If your website is just there to remind existing clients that you are there then social networking sites might be a waste of time for you other than say a blog and an RSS feed.

They are mostly promotional tools for me, otherwise I wouldn’t bother wasting more time on the computer with them. The newest fad that I like, are widgets. These cool looking “online ads” are bits of code that these social media sites allow you to paste your info onto blogs and any other online sources.

Online Forums: the most obvious benefit to these is to network with your peers. A side benefit to this is that the photographers that you develop relationships with can end up in a link trade which helps with search engine rankings. Also, these are people that you can swap insights with, image critiques, and good company to go shooting with. I regularly participate on the Nature Photographers Network because these are people whom I consider to be my peers. Photo.net is also a great source for general information though I don’t actively participate on that site. A good idea to employ with these sites is to include your URL’s in your signature as a promotional tool for your website every time that you comment in addition to being link juice. I would also recommend spending some time on the photo business forums which are listed under the links on the right. I won’t elaborate on Flickr right now because I have serious reservations about the overall culture of that site.

Follow Richard on Twitter!

Twitter: Many people use this to “tweet” every detail of their personal lives, but I try to minimize that in favor of promoting my photography activities. I have some photographers on my follow list on Twitter so it’s a good word of mouth PR outlet. Twitter is pretty mainstream with the web 2.0 crowd so it is definitely worth investigating. Even art buyers follow photographers on Twitter so it’s an easy way to provide updates on what you’re doing professionally. Another cool thing about Twitter is the widget that you can put on your blog to help your readers keep up to date with you.

Become a fan of my Facebook artist profile in order to enter a drawing for 10, 12×18 inch Lightjet Archival fine art prints of your choice.

Facebook is another source where you can add your RSS feeds and mass-email people on your friends list. Almost everyone uses Facebook these days so if you have the right contacts then it could be worth your time. Beware that it is easy to get sucked into time-waste mode on this site with all the games and stuff you can add to your private profile. I’m guilty of it.

Digg is primarily for driving large numbers of traffic to web articles. This is probably the least targeted method of web marketing for professional photographers but if enough people link to your article then it could drive up your search engine rankings. I personally spend very little time on here because I think these are just for short-term popularity boosts rather than long-term brand building. More geared toward breaking news stories because the controversial stuff is what tends to get Digged.

These are just a couple of the well-known online networking sites and there are new ones everyday. The key is to not get sucked into every little detail where you lose track of the ultimate goal: promoting your brand and networking with your professional peers. The two social networking methods where I feel that I get the most bang for my buck is blogging and the online forums. The others, I could probably live without. Remember the most important website for your business is your own. Invest the most energy there.

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Marketing, Technology | , | 3 Comments