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Intro Image: High rankings in Google Images have driven interest in this photo of mine, leading to a number of lucrative licensing deals for the image (and my related photos).
Every time I get together with a group of serious photographers, sooner or later the talk turns to how tough it is to make a living as a photographer, and how things are only getting harder. There’s some truth to this—but then again it has always been hard to make money as a photographer.
True, if you ignore the digital era trends that are ongoing and in place—and there will be more on the specifics of these trends later in this column—you will fall by the wayside and get lost in the shuffle. There is no doubt that the world is changing, and has changed irrevocably, and we all feel it. But these changes bring great opportunities, as well as challenges.
Taking advantage of these opportunities requires a change of attitude—as well as mastery of an entirely new digital tool set that has more to do with social media and marketing than with photography.
The purpose of this new series of columns is to help you with both of these aspects using digital era tools to find an audience for your photography. Come with me on this digital journey—I’ll be your guide through the sometimes perplexing digital maze while helping you find your unique photographic voice.
As a photographer, my work has been widely published and recognized, and I am the creator of two photography book series for major publishers. I have written a story in my blog, www.digitalfieldguide.com/blog, almost every day since early 2005. My opt-in-only email list has thousands of subscribers.
It is less well-known in the photography world that I am also the author of three books about Google, including Google Advertising Tools, now in its second edition, and the O’Reilly Media white paper about Search Engine Marketing (SEO). I have been a software developer and worked for technology companies.
I understand photography and the new era of digital marketing from both sides of the equation—photography and the technology of the Internet and social marketing. But nobody knows everything. To create a richer information mix for you to profit from—creatively and practically—I have interviewed outstanding photographers who have learned to navigate this digital world. They are all also excellent authors of books about photography. I asked them the questions that you might want to ask.
My interview subjects for this series of articles will include Michael Clark, David duChemin, Vincent Versace, and others. These professionals have all succeeded in different ways due to their creative entrepreneurial spirit, as well as their manifest gifts as photographers.
This first column sets the stage for a series of articles about finding an audience for your photography in the digital era. Subsequent columns will drill-down and cover some of the specific areas in much greater detail—but only if you care! Please let my editors at Photo.net know that this subject interests you by opening and reopening this article many times (only kidding!), sharing it on your favorite social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and—most important—using the comments feature to ask the questions that most interest you so I can try to answer them. Also, while you are at it, please comment to let me know which of the topics in this column you’d like me to drill down on.
The World Is Changing
The transition to digital, the rise of microstock, the race to the bottom of certain kinds of stock photography prices, and the demise of some large magazines have made life difficult for many photographers. There is increased competition from amateurs. In some areas there are fewer opportunities, and the prices that one can charge for some kinds of imagery and assignment work have diminished.
But the lowered cost of digital than film, greater control of the production process from beginning to end, and easy access to vast new audiences have at the same time created great opportunities for photographers who are willing to go with the flow. Distinguished nature photographer Mike Spinak puts it this way in a recent blog story: “Despite the dire pronouncements, it’s not all doom and gloom… [P]hoto needs are rising, equipment prices are dropping, quality is rising, markets are opening up, and the friction which hinders transactions is disappearing. The world is constantly shifting, and there have always been those decrying that it’s the end of the good old days. In some ways, perhaps; in others, the opposite is true.”
Spinak hits the nail on the head when he notes that the world is always changing. No doubt, portrait painters decried the advent of photography as bad for business. Yet we live in especially interesting times, where the rate of change may be happening more quickly than it is easy to deal with. In this context, it’s worth noting the well-known (but probably apocryphal) Chinese curse—may you live in interesting times.
Taking advantage of the new opportunities, and not getting side-swiped by the changing environment, means understanding who you are and what your market is. Your market, as we’ll discuss, is better contextualized as thinking about your audience. You’ll also need to be able to use the tools that social networking and the Internet put at our disposal.
It also takes a willingness to nurture your entrepreneurial side. Yes, we artists and photographers need to be entrepreneurs—and your photography business is a business, with a crucial difference. If you run out of money, your photography will stall. But photography can never be solely about making money. There are far easier ways to make money. Vision, image making, community, and having something to say all play a role, too.
For example, if you are interested in publishing a book with a trade publisher, you’ll find these days that the publisher expects photographers to have what they call a “platform”—an existing audience who will buy your book. (You’ll find more information about getting a photo book published in two of my Photo.net columns, Creating Photo Books, and Creating a Photo Book Proposal.) Essentially, this arrangement proposes a kind of entrepreneurial partnership between a publisher and a photographer-author. You can use some of the social media tools that I explain to help build your own platform, applicable to book publishing and many other ventures.
Figure 2: After seeing this image of mine on Flickr, an art director at HarperCollins selected it for use as a wrap-around cover.
Harold Davis is a photographer and author. His photographs have been widely published, exhibited, and collected. Many of his fine art photography posters are well known. Harold’s images have won a Silver Award in the International Aperture Awards 2008 competition, and inclusion in the 2009 North American Nature Photography Association Expressions Showcase.
Harold is the author of The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Post-Processing (Focal), Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers (O’Reilly Digital Media) and other books. Harold gives frequent digital photography workshops, many under the auspices of the Point Reyes National Seashore Association. More »