Remember when you used to gather up rolls of film, trundle off to the chemists and wait a few days to see if you actually captured anything worth keeping?
Fast forward a decade or two, and we can’t even remember a time when we had wrinkles in the annual family photo – thank goodness for Photoshop.
There is no doubt, over the past few years, digital cameras and desktop editing has changed photography, design, and publishing in mind blowing ways. The film versus digital war is over and everyone takes for granted the ability to drop a few pounds or wipe away a few years in seconds. While this technical revolution has captured our interest and changed the way we think about media forever, a quieter, even more disruptive revolution has been taking place in how images created by this technology are being used and sold around the world.
Up until a decade ago, a very small, elite group of photo editors controlled the billion dollar stock photo industry, hand picking what images sold, which photographers were ‘worthy enough’ to sell, and setting highly specific terms for use and prices so hard to swallow that until 2003 almost no one knew what a stock photo was, let alone afford one.
Then the revolution began – the unstoppable democratisation of the photography marketplace was on! Jump ahead to 2012 and at least 250 000 “amateur” photographers are selling over 10 pictures a second – that’s a second – online every day. On sites like Fotolia.com, the top selling photographers of all time weren’t picked by the old photo gatekeepers, (and in some cases, were actually ridiculed by the establishment when they began selling through the crowd-sourced marketplaces such as Fotolia.com that sprung up) but instead, by the over three million customers.
The idea was simple – photographers shoot, site inspectors approve, customers search, and the photographer is paid instantly when a customer downloads their work. The ‘experts’ said it would never work, that the model couldn’t scale, the low, low prices per photo would mean photographers couldn’t earn a living, and businesses wouldn’t be profitable.
The crowd proved them wrong – very wrong. Serious photographers earn huge six figure salaries by making hundreds of sales a month, pennies at a time, and ‘amateurs’ often earned enough to pay the mortgage – and the revolution continues to expand into every corner of the world that has access to the web.
Today, photographers in South Africa have easy access to the millions of image buyers from all over the world who download every second. Michael Zhang (link to his portfolio – //za.fotolia.com/p/200535675 ), a Fotolia.com contributor since 2008, shares a fairly typical journey from hobbyist to best selling photographer. Immigrating to South Africa from China in 2005, he told us, “I bought my first DSLR, a Cannon 400D, which was quite expensive for me at the time so I did a Google search on ‘how to make money with photography’”, to help pay for his equipment.
That’s how he discovered microstock – the value priced, high volume sales model Fotolia uses.
Zhang, like many successful Fotolia artists, tells us, “At the beginning, I knew almost nothing about photography. I had quite a lot of rejections of the photos submitted but I must say that rejections of the photos never beat me down because each rejection came with explanations why so I took it as a lesson and learned from my mistakes.” Like so many of Fotolia’s contributors, Zhang is completely self taught and has used both the inspection process and customers’ response to his product to refine and grow into a world-class stock photographer. If you look at his best selling photo on Fotolia, //www.fotolia.com/id/23982510, and compare it to one of his early shots, //www.fotolia.com/id/10043172, you can see just how far he’s come as an artist and as an entrepreneur.
Fotolia’s marketplace is a true free market economy – if customers like what you create, it sells. The more you create what sells, the more customers take notice of your portfolio – the artist and the buyer learn from each other without any direct interference from editors or sales people. To date, Zhang has sold over 30 000 photos on Fotolia.com and his story isn’t really all that unusual.
Duncan Noakes (//za.fotolia.com/p/354894 ), a Fotolia contributor since 2007, has built up a portfolio of over 3 000 images, selling many photos hundreds of times. Noakes saw the potential the digital imaging revolution offered. “That said, it still takes a creative idea and visualization to make a good photography. Simply shooting off lots of frames without planning or thought won’t result in a memorable image.” Quality on Fotolia has grown hugely over the years as other artists learned what Noakes learned back in the ‘70s that “good light and composition” still matter.
“I love royalty free [photography] because it allows me to shoot what inspires me and reaches a large customer base. The concept of selling a license for the same image over and over again is also very attractive,” Noakes says. He’s sold this photo almost 800 times so he knows what he’s talking about, //www.fotolia.com/id/7558311.
“I feel there is a big demand for quality images in South Africa.” He believes by having a local presence and the possibility of paying in local currency Fotolia will have many more satisfied customers.
Fotolia launched a South African version of it’s internationally renowned business in early November and is looking to add many more local artists to its community of over 250,000 contributors. The opportunity for South African artists to learn, grow and sell photos, vectors and video has never been better as customers will be looking for local expressions of stock images that have a true ‘African’ look and feel.
You reckon you got some great images to share with the world and make some money while doing so. Then join the Fotolia team and become a contributor and start making some extra Rands.
IMAGE: Michael Zhang, Fotolia
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