Archive for Marketing

Pretty Nature Photos and Art Galleries

Posted in Marketing, Rants with tags , , , , on March 5, 2009 by Darwin

I started shooting in 1986 and turned pro in 1991 but I have never had a print exhibition. Why not? Well, through most of my career I just took photos, turned them over to my stock agencies and collected cheques. Pretty simple  eh?

Frankly I am not a ‘fine art’ photographer, I make celebratory photos of nature and it seems like the gatekeepers of galleries want edgy, gritty images of strife and despair, they want social context and message. They want B+W and traditional processes, they want grain and soft-focus, in short they want emotion. Pretty, colourful  nature images are just so pedestrian, just so devoid of feeling. I guess the only emotions curators recognize are negative ones. For me, someone who pursues life like a lab chasing a stick, life is too short to look for wilted roses.

Curators accuse nature photographers of producing work that is formulaic, yet a quick  look through galleries that feature ‘fine art’ photography show the same old themes; the dead and dying, street people, Holga-esque landscapes, disaster coverage, essays on cigarette butts in an astray, the wilted flower still life, Siamese twins, circus freaks, toenail clippings, and abstract nudes.

Photographers I have talked with that shoot drama and beauty in nature have reported repeated rejection in fine art galleries. Curators tell them that “no one will be interested in this work”. Yet, these same photographers maintain on-line galleries on their websites and the general public eats up their work. I guess the general public do not count in the eyes of curators. The everyday disconnect of urban life leave many people longer for a connection with nature and pretty landscape and wildlife photos seems to be an offer a soothing antidote.

I am presenting my first print show this month, not in a fine-art gallery, but at the local public library (Nan Boothby Memorial Library) in Cochrane, Alberta. So far, the feedback to my ‘happy’ photos is very positive. Weird how positive photos bring positive emotions! What kind of photo would I want to grace the wall of my living room–a legless beggar in India, or a colourful meadow of alpine flowers set against a dramatic backdrop of mountain scenery? Hmmm… let me think about this for a moment?  Darwin


Seller Beware

Posted in Marketing, Rants with tags , , , , on February 4, 2009 by Darwin

Photographers who sell their work to magazines, calendars and books as stock photography know all too well the idiosyncracies of the publishing industry. Photographers have a product to sell, namely photos. But who sets the prices for these photos, the seller or the buyer? In almost every other transaction on the planet, the seller sets the price of his goods. Makes sense eh? But in photography it is often the buyer that tells the photographer what the usage fees will be! Strange but true. It’s like going to the supermarket and telling the cashier that you only pay 50 cents a pound for coffee.

Even worse, after the publisher tells you his going rate for buying your pictures, then he sets the timeline for payment! Most publishers pay after publication. That means that although they order your picture now, they will not pay for it until after they use it. Imagine going into a grocery store and getting food but not having to pay anything until you eat the stuff! 

And then, to add further insult, many publishers have ‘terms’ that  payment will be made within three months of publication. So If I ‘sell’ a photo to a magazine in January, it often takes until 3 months to go to press, and then three more months until I get paid. Six months! Imagine not having to pay for your groceries for six months after you ‘bought’ them?

Ok, the scenario above is ‘standard’ and in my mind pretty darn unacceptable, but this is how the industry runs. Collectively we might be able to change things but photographers are fiercely independant and there is always someone willing to sell photos for crappy terms. Chances of things changing are slim if we all just go on accepting the publishers terms. More and more, I am weaning myself off of publishers who I think are not worth dealing with.

On several occasions I have dealt with Firefly Books in Canada. This company buys a lot of photos from freelance photographers and stock photo agencies especially for their line of calendars. If you plan to deal with Firefly be warned that getting paid may be more difficult than anticipated. In my experience, not only is Firefly extremely tardy in making payments (way beyond that described above), I could only get paid after threatening legal action (on more than one occasion). Other photographers I have talked to have had similar experiences so I am not alone on this one.

Maybe someone out there has had great experiences with Firefly and would love to present another view. But for me, this is one company I will no longer sell photos to. The hassles of dealing with any company that is truant is just not worth including in my business model. Firefly has been banned from my list of potential clients. I now only deal with ‘reliable’ publishers and though I make less sales, I am happier and less stressed, and running my business by my rules, not someone else’s.

Update – Feb 9 – Here is a note from a photographer who shall remain anonymous about working with Browntrout, one of the major calendar publishing companies:

“I submitted 2010 images to Browntrout in July 08; calendars on stand on June 09 for Tourist season; re-printed and out with a vengeance for Christmas season in Nov 09. Contract states “will commence payment in March of year following publication (March 2010). Typically I start screaming at them in Sept of payment year and usually see cheque in early Dec (2010 in this case). So, what’s that … 2.5 years! 

To add insult to injury three years ago they said digital files only (no increase in fees for saving them scan costs); two years ago the files had to be profiled CMYK to their colour space, and this year they had to be keyworded to their specs. Oh ya, they also wanted contributors to agree to a 20% decrease citing global economic difficulties.  Mmm – I guess we photographers are immune!”

On Photo Contests

Posted in Marketing with tags , , , on January 12, 2009 by Darwin

What does it mean to win??

Does winning an international photo contest mean anything?  Does it mean you are the “Master of the Universe“? Or does it mean nothing?

I have been lucky (and luck is the key here) to have won numerous prestigous contests. Each time I’ve won, I found that winning is a fabulous marketing tool. Winning has raised my profile and garnered me more attention than any direct advertising could get me. And winning almost always gets me to exotic places I could not afford to get to on my own (plus many contests give you great camera gear – I do like freebies!). So yes, winning is great for business and for getting to new places to create more images for the portfolio. But does it really mean you are good?

Well… art is subjective. For example the photo I show below is one of my favorite photos yet it resonates with few–only a couple of people that I showed this photo to actually like it (my mom and my girlfriend – no bias there!). I have entered it into at least 5 major competitions and it does nothing! Never. Crap. “What is wrong with the judges”?? Does that mean the photos sucks??? Well, maybe. All I know is that I love this image and it remains one of my favorites even after five years of viewing it (it was created in 2004)


So…  my lesson is this: all that winning a photo contest means is that your photos appealed to a certain set of judges on a particular day. On a different day or with different judges, your photos might not even get shortlisted. Take this fact for what it means… your photos connected with another set of humans on a given day in a given place. What more can we ask for as artists? When our art connects with someone else, then we are all winners! Pretty simple eh??

And don’t forget to enter contests, Peter Carroll has been so kind to offer us a list here: