Is Giving One’s Images Away for Free a Brilliant Marketing Move?

still-life-5

… or a very very bad idea?

Trey Ratcliff (Lost in Customs) has always given his images away on the Non-Commercial Creative Commons License. What is new today is his link to grab ALL of his favorite 500 images for free and download them in full high res form.

See more here: Free Download: Trey Ratcliff’s 500 Best Photos in Full Resolution

This is the new paradigm of photography that wasn’t really around in the old days. There were professionals with very expensive and exotic gear and the rest of the world was happy with a point and shoot that took 2 rolls a year.

Now photography is ubiquitous. From cell phones to big DSLR’s more people are engaged than ever before.

This has created a new source for photographers to benefit from; the teaching of the amateur photographer who wants simply to be better at that activity.

When you think about it critically, it is just another source – a channel so to speak – of revenue. The vast majority of them do not wish to become ‘professionals’, they simply want to have fun, make cool imagery, and be a part of the rich heritage of photography.

Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people take piano lessons who do not have their eye on Carnegie Hall. Lots of people go to painting workshops to learn how to do their art without designs on the Met. Ballroom dancing, Yoga, creative writing, scrapbooking, running, Pilates…. the list is pretty long.

These people want to be better at something and there are professionals out there to help them become better.

Trey’s always given his images as CC Non-Commercial, so they are not really seen as commercial anyway. His main revenue source is the amateur photographer who wants to make a ‘cool’ HDR shot on vacation. He has, to my knowledge, never pretended to be something he is not (and there are plenty of those folks who do out there) but has always maintained his amateur status as teacher and photographic vagabond. Actions/Presets/Ebooks/workshops.

Professional photographers will someday realize that the amateur and advanced amateur is as viable a market as corporations and ad agencies. And this new market carries no guilt or ‘wannabee’ status at all. It is a person wanting to know ‘how you do that’ so they can do it too.

Is that ‘pure photography’?

I am not sure I even know what ‘pure photography’ is these days… in fact: We must understand that what was once a “photographer” is now a different categorical definition. Where once non-photographers maybe shot a roll or two per year, they now shoot tens of thousands of images per year.


His market is a great swath of people who love making photographs that please them, and their own audience. We can sit on high and pass judgement, but that is sort of like telling me that nobody likes Rap music because it takes little to no musical ability.

True on what it takes, wrong on who likes it.

Photography is now a ‘participation’ hobby, with a possible nod to sports. It is no longer in the confines of the ‘professional’ with lots of exotic gear and expensive tools. It is open to the masses and they are eating it up with gusto.

Photography is no longer a narrow niche. It is no longer in the purview of the professional. It will NEVER go back. Never.

Trey (and others in that genre) are not interested in shooting for corporations or ad agencies or for magazines, he is of a newer breed of photographer who recognizes a market and fills that market with educational tools and intellectual property that it craves.

Where once we had two channels – professional photographers / the rest of the world – we now have dozens or more.

Professional photographers.
Professional photographic educators.
Semi-professional artists, semi-professional consumer photographers.
Serious amateurs who devote tens of thousands of dollars to participate.
Instagrammers and Hipstagrammers and the companies that print books.
Blurb, Artifact Uprising, MILK and more
Wedding pros / wedding amateurs…
Vigorous amateur participation that brings BILLIONS into the genre.

Why we continue to find fault with this new and widely diverse new model simply stumps me.

Pianists teach people who do not want to be professionals.
Guitar and drums and trumpet and french horn teachers do the same.
There are painting and poetry and creative writing workshops and education for people who do not want to be professional, just better at what they love.

Universities keep turning out people with sociology degrees, and early french literature degrees, and philosophy degrees (and hundred thousand dollar debt) to people who will never be able to make a living with that information.

Why is it wrong, or somehow devastating to some, that a guy like Trey comes along and says.. “Hey, I have a different approach. I don’t want to make money from my photographs, I want to teach and help and be compensated for that.”

As far as I know, he has never offered anyone the “Tips to a Six Figure Business” or the “Seven Secrets Every Photographer Should Know”… He has a loyal and fairly deep fan base that loves what he does and compensates him for doing it.

That his business model seems to worry so many “professionals” is far more troubling to me. We better learn to embrace the change or we will all be old farts sitting around bitching while the youngsters spin circles around our tired asses.

WHY I AM CHUCKING ALL MY GEAR AND RETURNING TO SAND PAINTING AS MY VISUAL MEDIUM.

I have always loved sand. When I was a kid I would play in it, except when mum let the cat play in it first, and then it smelled sort of like my little brother, but… I digress.

Cameras are obsolete. We hear every day about this new gizmo and that new gizmo, and how iPhones and soccer moms are killing the industry. And – I have come to understand that they are correct.

Photography, as an industry is totally dead. No life at all left in it. The fact that billions of images are uploaded daily is testament to the fact that no one cares about images anymore.

But sand… sand is eternal. Sand is from the earth. Sand is organic. Sand will save the planet, which will someday get hit by a mighty meteor and explode, thus saving “Sanctumorius Two” in the Umbawumba Galaxy from a terrible fate.

Sorry, digressing again.

Sand is now my medium.

And not that gritty ol’ beach sand, nosirree, that sand is for amateurs and wannabe’s … I will use only fine, Italian sand. (They have sand in Italy… right? Right?)

I have moved beyond mere photography into a world where there are NO Craigslist competitors, soccer moms with sand, and the constant fear of being the most expensive. Hell, we all wanna be the cheapest, right?

Right?

Anyway. This is my fond farewell. I have decided to go bravely into this new world of sand painting with eyes wide open (well, you know, with goggles of course) and my off sand lighting and create some great ‘sandist’ work.

Depth of field? Screw it.
Focus? Screw it.
Inverse Square Law? I don’t even know what that is so screw it.

Me.
Sand.
A dog (to keep the cats away)
Art.

And, since I am not using batteries, I am single handedly saving this wretched planet.

You’re welcome.

ISLA: A New Book by Ernesto Bazan, Photographer

“No, I don’t [do assignments]. I stopped doing that, more or less, when I decided to become a teacher in 2002. Because of my workshops, I had to leave Cuba in 2006, which is ironic. I fund all my work thanks to the generosity of my students. This will be the third self-published book now. In exchange for their support, I usually give them two options. The first is to pre-acquire a limited edition of the book. I’ve done the same with ISLA. Of course some who could afford the limited edition of one book cannot any longer, but there’s a hardcore group of students that have bought all three limited editions of each book.

 

The economic situation is what it is, but these students can help me by buying these books at over $1000 each. That is the foundation of how I build a book. Even if they can’t buy the limited edition, their names will be a part of the thank you note at the end of the book. I think that by helping these students to take better pictures over all these years, I’ve developed all of these incredible friendships and I’ve also had the unique and amazing, priceless privilege of just concentrating on taking my own photographs over the last thirteen years.”

– Ernesto Bazan

The entire article is here. It is long, but full of insight.

Art And Its Detractors

“How has your art been received in your community? Do you have any detractors?”

“Oh, yeah. That comes up all the time. If you really, really commit to something, someone will hate you for it. And that’s ok. But the further you pursue your art, and the more you come to understand that it’s coming from who you are, the less that stuff gets to you. When you reach that point and put your work out there, and somebody hates it, what are your options? Are you gonna move forward or completely realign your work? Somebody will always be there to tell you they don’t like what you’re doing. To do work that pleases people is a constant investment in gauging trends and evaluating opinions and measuring yourself against them. If you align to what’s popular, and then in two years everyone hates it, you have to completely change who you are. But if you just figure out who you are and how you want to work, all you have to do is commit to that the rest of your life. People’s reactions might change, but you won’t have to. You’ll be doing something you care about, whether people like it or not.”

Photographer Ryan Muirhead Talks Depression, Creativity, and What It Means to Be Human

“NO” versus “YES” – Which Got The Most Response?

cops

On the previous post I mentioned, almost in passing, how negative articles and stories are more highly engaged than are positive ones.

A few minutes later, this catches my attention:

Just Say NO

“So, one answer to my student’s rhetorical question is “Just say NO.” As in, no, I will not make your donut commercial for free; no, I will not play at your restaurant “for the exposure;” no, you cannot have my painting to hang in your home because your “important” friends will see it; no, I will not paint your set “for the experience.”  What I will do is accept a slightly below market wage because I’m still in school and you’ll get what you pay for; yes, I will play at your restaurant for one night if you provide dinner for my family of six beforehand; yes, I will loan my painting to you for a fixed period of time if I am invited to the cocktail party to meet your important friends; yes, I will paint your set with you so that you can train me on a specialized technique with which I am unfamiliar.  Or, yes! I will gift my talents to you with generosity and an open heart because I love you, your cause, or your work. But no, I will not make your donut commercial for free.  [In a follow-up post, I discuss saying "YES!"]“

It received over 114 responses before the comments were closed.

The following week, the author wrote “Saying YES”.

“Just – or even more – important than knowing when to say “no,” is knowing when and how to say “yes.”  Giving builds community; giving builds friendships; giving builds social capital (although one need not think of it in those terms); giving lifts the spirit of both the giver and receiver.  We may give of our time, we may give of our money, we may give of our things, we may give of our talent.  Related to giving is sharing – we may share knowledge, share food, share an experience (good or bad), without any exchange of material goods.”

It received three comments.

Negativity is the common thread of all failed anythings. The author has it right on both of these articles. Absolutely right… and yet the negative by far has more engagement.

Why?

WTF? You think I am some sort of sociologist or somethin’? I have no data, only my life long experience of finding that negative people are more persuasive and impassioned than they should be.

It is almost as if people go LOOKING for negative things to use as some sort of blame shifting mechanism.

After all, if you aren’t successful it is probably because of ‘those people’… you know who I mean… the others that steal dreams and force us to constantly make bad decisions and sit on our fat asses whining.

Yeah… them.

On Change Changing What was Changed…

hiway
… or something.

My friend Jan Klier (NYC) and I were discussing the recent Getty move to grant access to millions of images for only a byline. He feels it is a good move for photographers, and while I am still somewhat ambivalent we both agree that the worst thing is the overall message that photographs are not worth much anymore.

We also agree that message will fade as photographs are becoming more and more valuable all the time.

No, I am not talking about wedding photographs or baby shots, brochure covers or even ad shots for the newest wizbang gadget.

I mean as a value to our lives. The communication and interaction they facilitate. The shared experiences and cultural manifestations of images are not to be ignored.

From Jan’s post this morning:

“Photographers lack that scale in their marketing. How many portfolio reviews have you been on in the last year? How many people have seen your entire book and seen the majority of your photos? How many people’s opinions have you gotten about your work? Is it a statistically significant number? Doubtfully. Yet, how many people have seen some of your images in some form or another without you knowing about it? How much better could your business be if you could reliably create and market your next photo with the accuracy of an Amazon recommendation?

So while Getty’s latest move may not yet be the photographer’s meta data solution, it’s a move in that direction. Paul Melcher has been involved in Stiple, another smaller endeavor in the same vein.”

From my half of the email exchange this morning:

Change is hard. Change is always harder when multiple models change at the same time. The traditional ‘dollars for hours’ model of the service sector is being tossed on its head. The traditional ‘licensing’ for use’ model is being challenged and in many cases eviscerated.

When we take today’s market and look at it from today’s perspective (rather than one of 20 years ago) we can clearly see that if we began this industry now, we would be using a far different set of tools to create the values we want to maintain. We would not be looking at day-rates, licensing, and controlling access, we would be looking at reach, engagement and open access.

Business models that made no sense 20 years ago, and will make a lot of sense 20 years from now. Or something else entirely, change is indeed constant.

Simply said, the old models don’t work smoothly in today’s environment. It will not get smoother.

And yet that failed model of trying to shoehorn an unworkable model into a clearly bad fit is what so many spend their time and efforts on.

The old model of the business of photography is breathing its last breath. Mediocre photographers who got by in years past are today’s roadkill. Big time shooters are finding other models to follow (McNally the celebrity, Heisler the sage etc…) and this is the natural progression of disruption, be it good or bad not withstanding.

The new model of photography is also quite difficult to see at the moment. It is still in flux, and in fact may never again ‘gel’ into a single, describable entity. It may remain ethereal and erratic, shifting forever without a clear and discernible set of parameters.

Quickly changing cultural beliefs and communication standards will be entering and weaving for quite a few more years… and the pace will most likely not subside (barring a catastrophic failure of society, which may not be out of the question these days).

The fear that photographers have over losing what they had is misplaced. It is already gone. Looking back and wishing it were not so is of no value, and it will avail nothing but more distraction and pain and time lost from moving ahead.

Looking forward may indeed be painful, but it will at least be a start toward understanding the changing nature of photography, how photography is perceived and used, of what value is photography to the culture and how one who creates imagery fits in.

This of course requires more effort, so we will continue to bitch and whine, which of course provides nothing of value, but is far easier to do.

Notice the amazing hit counts on the ‘oh poor woe is us’ posts at Petapixel, VSL, f-stoppers and such. Doom and gloom are still the big attractions for the human race. Early newspaper owners knew it. Media organizations know it. Nothing different in the photography realm.

But we are all aware of those that ignored the doom and gloom fascination of the day to move into a more prosperous tomorrow. Instead of wringing hands and enjoying each other’s suffering, they went out and did… something else. A choice we all have an opportunity to make every single morning we open our eyes.

Today I am trying to figure out how to incorporate Snapchat into my business… not sure I have a breakthrough yet, but I believe there is a way.