Field Report:

The Non-Glamorous Side of Photography

Shady Photo Contests

Photo contests are among the more controversial topics within the photography community. One of the most common complaints is that some photo contests are nothing more than a “rights grab”; meaning that the sponsor of the contest inserts legal language within the fine print that essentially allow them the right to sub-license, redistribute and use all photos submitted however they wish while freeing themselves from any potential liability arising from the publication of the images. For the sponsor of the contest that’s great because they can build a stock photo library that they can profit off of for almost nothing because let’s face it, most contests award a measly amount of prizes compared to how many quality images they get in return. Photographers on the other hand are getting ripped off for submitting to such contests and not to mention can potentially open themselves up to legal liabilities for the publication of those images because they give up control over where the images will be published by agreeing to such terms. (note: I’m not a lawyer so take this with a grain of salt.) These contests aren’t small time operations either as some are sponsored by some very well known organizations. Not all photo contests serve as rights grabs however so there are some that are legitimately there to benefit the photographer such as PDN, Communication Arts Photo Annual and the ICP awards.

How much benefit photo contests are to photographers is debatable though there are some that milk the exposure for all it’s worth. One photographer claims to be “The Most Awarded Photographer in History”, several claim to be “The Master Photographer” and do very well when it comes to the sale of fine art prints to tourists. While the more common way that photographers use this exposure is to refer to themselves as an award-winning photographer in their bio. Another thing to consider when entering contests is who the judges are and the audience for the publication of the images will be targeting hence why I cited PDN and the CA Photo Annual. For editorial, commercial and stock photographers the readers of those publications are your target audience so there is potentially good exposure to be had from entering those contests though there are no guarantees of gaining additional business from the exposure.

As for myself, I believe I’ve entered only three photo contests to date but haven’t won anything. I’m selective about these contests for all the reasons listed above, not to mention that if you don’t feel the contest will help then it’s essentially throwing money away that could be best served for other marketing activities. The odds of winning the top prize in photo contests are not much greater than winning the lottery so consider how many other entries will be selected for publication because that is a more realistic goal.

And back to my first point… always read the fine print before submitting to photo contests.


July 3, 2011 Posted by | Marketing, Photo Industry News, rants | , , | 2 Comments

The Secret to Social Media for Photographers

I have written a lot about social media on this blog not only because most marketers are talking about it but because many photographers have expressed doubts about it. The truth is that social media is integral to most online marketing efforts these days. There are no rules which is probably what scares photographers the most but look at all the photographers who have become known as subject matter experts in the past several years. How many of them were widely known before the internet? The barriers to entry in order to get published in the past was determined by print publishers but now they don’t nearly wield as much power in the past and there are so many more opportunities to make a name for yourself. Take this blog post for instance. Sure I could have pitched this article to PDN or a mainstream business publication and pray that I get a heavily-edited version published months later but instead you get to read the original version here several days after I wrote it.

When I started this blog, my intent was to share some of the things I’ve learned in marketing to photographers that might not have a background in business. My photo blog wasn’t really an appropriate place to talk business since the blog is meant to highlight my photography so I created this blog as sort of a business information archive that I could direct photographers to if they had questions. It takes some time to write the articles for the blog but the benefit to me is that it helps to establish some credibility with my target audience and open up additional opportunities to get my name out there that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

I bring this up because photographers have traditionally written for magazines and authored photo books for the same purpose; to get their name out there, build their reputation and leverage that reputation to monetize other products and services. Lets face it, for most people, the pay for writing magazine articles and books doesn’t really justify the time incurred for developing the query, negotiations with the publisher, development of the article, re-editing and dealing with the accounting department of the publisher. Their real intent is to develop a brand around their name. Legendary nature photographer, Art Wolfe, has even been quoted as saying that he has done 60-something books but they don’t earn him much money and are basically a break-even deal but what being so prolific does for him is keep his name out there. Another example is that there are some well-known wedding photographers that shoot weddings for the same purpose. Shoot a few select weddings every year, broadcast how cool they are online then spend the rest of the year pushing their products and services onto other photographers because they have realized there is more earning potential to marketing to other photographers than in the actual art of photography.

So it’s true. Unless you have a plan for leveraging your reputation, publishing via traditional print or social media is merely for vanity. It doesn’t pay well on the surface but if you have a plan and stick to it then social media much like print publishing in the past can be your keys to the kingdom. That is the secret to social media for photographers.

February 22, 2011 Posted by | Marketing, Web | , , , , , | 4 Comments

Getting Found by Photo Buyers

I skimmed through an article in Photo District News (PDN) about Urban Outfiiters photography choices and the part that really caught my attention was a quote from their photo buyer recommending to photographers to stop wasting money on mailers and focus on web marketing. She specifically referred to blogging, Flickr, and social media because that is where she goes to find new photographers to photograph for her brand. She said she spends a lot of time seeking out new photography blogs so she knows who is out there shooting what.

From what I have read, these days there seems to be an equal mix of art buyers who say they still prefer traditional marketing methods versus those who actively seek out photography online via Google, Flickr, blogging, etc…. But in the coming years as a younger generation of art buyers gets into the workforce, we will probably see a majority swing to web 2.0 because younger demographics have grown up during the internet age and have less reservations about working with people they meet online.

Times are changing so fast culturally that it is only a matter of time before that day comes. It was just nine years ago that I had a college marketing professor state that no internet company had yet figured out a way to become profitable. Now, things that used to be taboo to talk about, such as online dating, have become a standard way to meet people. Photo buyers are people too and it is only natural that they consume social media just like anyone else. Photographers who haven’t yet accepted this cultural-shift or are too scared to jump into the web 2.0 world are kidding themselves. True, there may be some well-established photographers who can probably ride out the rest of their career without changing a thing but it is also no coincidence that there are a lot of pros who grumble about how good things used to be in the 80’s and 90’s.

Another way to look at web marketing is that it can open up a whole new world of opportunities. Within the traditional photo buying market, you have ad agencies / publishing companies / art galleries / etc… where you have every working and aspiring photographer targeting that same small niche of photo buyers. With the internet, anyone with an internet connection and a need for photos is a potential customer. Suddenly you go from competing in a crowded market where there are only several thousand potential customers to a market where you have tens of millions potential customers.

May 10, 2010 Posted by | Marketing, Photo Business, Photo Industry News, Web | , , , | 3 Comments

Social Media Article on Black Star Rising

My latest article for Black Star Rising might be of interest to you since I have previously written about social media in several posts on this blog. This article addresses the questions that people might have regarding the purpose of social media.

Here’s the article:

Is Social Media a Waste of Time for Photographers?

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Marketing, Web | , | 1 Comment

Social Networking Etiquette 101

It is no surprise that anytime an opportunity presents itself, there will be marketers flocking to it. The problem with marketers is that they often jump into a new medium without fully understanding the motivations of those using the medium. I am writing this because I have been noticing more and more lately that people are creating Twitter accounts with no intention of interacting with people at all. These people just care about pushing their products or services onto people. Well guess what, those old-school push marketing tactics only serve to drive people away from you.

It is in really bad taste to DM someone with a sales pitch as your first line of correspondence after they have added you. It’s even worse if you DM someone your spammy message and haven’t reciprocated the add so they can’t even respond back to you. If you have built your profile effectively then there is no need to do this because we would already know what you’re about. When someone adds you on Twitter, the chances are that they have seen your line of work already and don’t need to be talked at in order think positively about you. Just like when you see someone in person that you want to talk to, you should be personable. Say hi and ask them how they are doing, or compliment them on something. Be sincere. You wouldn’t just walk up to someone and shove your business card in their face saying “I’m the shit. Now check out my website, goodbye.” It is also perfectly fine to not say anything and see if they want to say something first. Play your cards right and they’ll want to get to know you. Play them wrong and they’ll be indifferent to you.

Most marketers who aren’t experienced at social networking treat these activities as if they were the same as their mass media outlets. There is a huge difference. In mass media, it is generally expected that you are not talking to any specific person as it is an impersonal form of communication. In social networking sites however, it is all about direct communication with individuals. People join these sites to communicate with each other not buy stuff. It is about relationships and dialogue. You have to work at it in order to get to the relationship stage. Maybe then at that point, they might want to buy something or maybe not, but at least you’ll have acquired a brand champion.

Perhaps this blog post should be re-titled as, “Relationships 101”.

December 24, 2009 Posted by | Marketing, rants, Web | , , , | 9 Comments

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 –


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

Photo Captions

Previously I wrote about stock photo keywording and software so I thought I’d offer some thoughts on picture captioning. What got me to thinking about this topic was that I’ll do stock photo searches from time to time for both professional reasons and location research but often times the image will not have adequate information in the caption. This can be a major problem for both the photo researchers and the photographer whether they know it or not.

Referring to an image as “Goliath’s Wrath” might sound cute for print buyers but it really offers nothing of benefit to the stock photography market. The same goes for images that have a basic description but too vague to be of use. Images captioned like, “Rocks, Colorado Plateau, Utah”, while giving a basic idea for the region really aren’t descriptive enough for textbook publishers. Plus it doesn’t help the photographer get his images noticed because there are a gazillion images out there with those same words as well. But if it says “Gneiss Marble Techtonic Plate Remnants from The Pleistocene Age, Kodachrome Basin, Utah” or something of that nature then it is much more specific and likely to be found by the appropriate sources for several reasons.

1. Not a lot of people have gone that far to identify the subject.

2. The photo researcher might need an image that fits these exact requirements, nothing more and nothing less.

Also something to consider is that if you give accurate and detailed captions along with your images, it makes you the photographer seem much more knowledgeable about your subject matter and more useful when it comes to consulting. If you were to put two equally as impressive photography portfolios side by side along with the captions. One with poor captioning versus one with good captions, then who do you think looks more knowledgeable? One would appear to be a photographer who happens to shoot trees while the other would appear to be a tree expert. There is a big difference in perception there.

Brea Canyon Firestorm Along 57 Freeway, Diamond Bar, Southern California

Brea Canyon Firestorm Along 57 Freeway, Diamond Bar, Southern California

I’ll use some of my own images as an example. For this image of the Brea Canyon Fire, it has an accurate caption. I could have gone further to say what date it was and the end result. This is information that would appeal to newspapers and other journalism outlets but good enough in my opinion for people to find the image through stock agency sites or search engines.

Grant Lake Dry Lake Bed Colorful Patterns

Grant Lake Dry Lake Bed Colorful Patterns

This image from the Eastern Sierras however is not captioned very well. In fact, I’m actually pretty surprised at how little information I included. To be honest, I don’t know really know what the colored stuff is but I should have at least included the region and state, which were June Lakes Loop / Eastern Sierra and California respectively. This is an image that I am going to have to go back and add a better caption when I get a chance. As it is now, this image is not likely to be licensed unless I can get a more insightful caption.

Some photographers, nature photographers in particular tend to be protective over the location of their images so they are very vague with their caption. That is fine if you don’t care about licensing your images but for the purposes of this blog we’re going to assume those people only really care about print sales or are just hobbyists. For the rest of us, this is a foolish practice from a business perspective.

There are going to be times where it is just not cost-effective or too difficult to bother spending a lot of time researching the correct captions and back story to images but it is a good business practice to try at least. Often times, the most important part of an image is not the image itself but of knowing the subject and being able to convey that. Check out this link to my picture of the Original Stations of the Cross Painting from Mission San Gabriel Arcangel. A magazine request came in for this subject once and I made the sale. While the editor did comment that the images I submitted were the best they had seen, I wouldn’t have been able to produce a quality product had I not known how historically significant the subject matter was.

A lot of California Missions have similar looking paintings in their chapels but the difference with this one is this is an original canvas painting, not a replica unlike the others. That is why I photographed it and haven’t bothered photographing the paintings at other missions. We are visual artists obviously but it really does pay off to understand what it is we are shooting. Photographers like to say that it is only about the light. Well not really. Yes we need light to have an image, but light itself isn’t a picture. Subject matter is what truly counts. Subject matter only counts however when we are able to convey that; through photo captions in our case.

Conversely, I made a semi-mistake once on a submission due to somewhat misleading captioning. It wasn’t deliberate but I submitted an image then later went back to research a more comprehensive caption at the request of the editor only to find out that the actual subject might not have held the same meaning as what was initially thought. I made a note of that. The image didn’t sell in this instance, though it later sold a few times through a stock agency. I don’t know for sure that this is why the image didn’t get used but I did learn from this experience.

In another instance when I first started out, I lost out on a potential book cover because the author asked me if I had images of oak trees from a certain area. I told her I didn’t. Well it turns out that I did have the right images! I hadn’t spent enough time captioning my images so I wasn’t aware of what I had. It wasn’t until two years later on a photo shoot in the same place that I finally realized my mistake. Ouch!

The moral of the story is take time to write good captions for your photos. Everyone loses when we don’t.

January 4, 2009 Posted by | stock photography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Interesting Links – 7/30/08

Brand Essence – An Art Producer’s Perspective: Caitlin works as an ad agency art producer. Some good thoughts to think about here.

Stop Whining About Copyright Infringement and Do Something About It – Black Star Rising: Sean Cayton reasons that worrying about every single copyright infringement is a waste of time that could be better served doing other things. His philosophy is to make it inconvenient for people to steal his work.

Road Trip – Digital Railroad Marketplace Blog: Man. These photos of the southern states make me want to become a better photographer.

Alert: Digital Photo Frame Company Takes License of Your Photos and More – Photo Attorney Carolyn Wright. Just like with Facebook and MySpace, be sure to read the terms of use before posting images.

MagCloud: – Currently in beta test, but this promises to be an important step in the self-publishing movement. I think the advertising-heavy business model that the American publishing industry currently utilizes dilutes the quality of the product that magazines are able to deliver so I think there is still a market for quality self-published material even in today’s fragmented media marketplace.

Small Town U.S.A. / Local Artist – Sean Donnelly is a photojournalist intern at the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Is Professional Wedding Photography Dead? – Wedding photographer, David Ziser has an important article on his blog regarding the lack of professionalism amongst photographers. Remember that the actions of a few can negatively impact the perception of all photographers.

To share my own story: While on an elephant seal tour at Ano Nuevo State Reserve in California near the end of 2004, I asked the park docent who to speak to regarding getting permission to photograph wildlife until after sunset since I had seen similar postcards from Kennan Ward in their gift shop. What I received instead was an earful about how photographers never obey park rules by wandering off-trail and cause a big headache for everyone. I felt offended at that notion since I had done nothing out of the ordinary up til that moment. To be stereotyped like that is just not right. After a few minutes of being on the receiving end of her rant, she conceded that I seemed like a nice guy and “not one of the bad photographers” so she told me about how to get in after hours. It turns out that each employee of Ano Nuevo SR can bring guests for after hours hikes several times per year.

I haven’t been back to Ano Nuevo since.

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Weekly Links | , , | Leave a comment