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05-04-2011, 10:56 PM   #1
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Interesting Niche . . . And Lack of Marketability

Hello, all -

So, for 20+ years, I was an avid hobbyist. Three years ago, I had the opportunity to contribute to a community guide published once very few years. Since then, I've sold an equal number of fine art prints and editorial use files . . . not enough to pay bills, but enough to pay for web hosting, a new lens here and there, etc.

I've always prided myself on being a generalist, but I feel a real tug to choose a specific direction and go at it hard for the next year or so. The problem is that, as I see it, there seems to be no real proven marketability for the direction I most enjoy.

I know what I'm not:
- I'm not a "shoot for hire" event photographer
- I don't do weddings
- I only do portraits for friends/relatives, and those are few and far between
- I'll shoot on assignment, but not for the "shoot and burn" style of editorial work prominent in photojournalism circles (i.e. for a magazine with a five hour deadline to clean, tag, and dump)

I also know what I love:
- Quality over quantity
- Setting out for an event / destination of my choosing to capture images others might not see in the same setting
- Time to edit with an artist's eye, applying a look befitting the setting
- Looking back at the last 10-ish years and thinking, "Wow. I captured all of that, and I'm proud of the images regardless of whether or not Getty or SI wants them."

And, I know my favorite subjects:
- Pro and college sports
- People at the top of their game (Blue Angels, musicians, etc.)
- I'm pretty good at getting access for events because of a former career and especially enjoy showing fans what the 'behind the scenes' world looks like

With all of that said, has anyone had success marketing a blend of fine art and photojournalism? I don't know that any of my shots are the type people would purchase to place on giant canvases on their walls. Yet, they aren't newspaper filler either. They seem to be most useful for getting ooh's and aah's on Facebook slideshows . . . which leads me to believe doing some kind of gallery show might be a good option.

Examples of the work I most enjoy creating:

[Photos deleted. Old thread. Thanks.]

ANY suggestions would be very welcome. If anyone else is in the same boat (i.e. trying to target a less well-traveled market), please join the conversation.


Last edited by ajtour; 02-08-2012 at 03:56 PM. Reason: Photos are outdated yet come up in a Google search under my personal name and business name.
05-04-2011, 11:17 PM   #2
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I wish I had something to offer, I must say that those are some mighty fine images. They all have a particular sparkle. My complements.
05-04-2011, 11:32 PM   #3
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Thank you, Tim! Much appreciated.
05-06-2011, 10:45 AM   #4
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Although I am not a photojouralist, I would suggest trying some of the sports magazines that specialize in one sport and market to them. Another option is to go to calendars.com and see who is publishing calendar titles that fit what you shoot.

05-10-2011, 11:00 PM   #5
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I'm in a similar boat, wondering if what I'm doing has an audience, and I'm thinking the only way to really tell is to do it - if I find someone else doing exactly the same thing succesfully, that might be might whole market captured already

Just reading your post I have a few more questions:
What kind of print types/sizes have you got going already?
What are you actually trying to get out of this?

To me it sounds like 'people at the top of their game' is an awesome concept, and a strong niche in and of itself - maybe you need another way to think of working from that, rather than try to squeeze into a pre existing photo business category.

Keep us posted on your thinking, I hope it turns out how you want it.
Sam
05-13-2011, 12:08 PM   #6
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One problem is that you will always be competing with people just like yourself - who don't care to make a living at photography. And those people are happy to "pay for web hosting, a new lens here and there, etc". So making a living at doing what you want to do has become much harder over the last 10 years. If you're not willing to slog it out as an event shooter, shoot and burn photojournalist etc then not many people will want to work with you - and fewer will even know who you are. I personally don't have a problem marketing myself as a photographer because what I do is EXACTLY what you don't want to do... so this is not an argument against people dilluting the industry as you will hear others make

Last year at the super bowl the most junior photographer on the field for Sports Illustrated (among 20 or so SI photographers) had previously shot 8 Super Bowls. These guys are your "shoot and burn" photographers whose pictures grace the cover of the biggest sports magazine in the world. Without getting in to specific critiques of who is better... I have little doubt that with 20 seasoned photographers on the field SOMEBODY is going to get a picture that is just as nice (and creative) as anything you could take so where do you envision your upper echelon photography fitting in.

The best way to find out where you fit in the world of photography is to actually work in the trenches as a photographer for a while... but that does not sound like something you are interested in so it will be much harder for you to answer your own question here.

One problem in particular that you are going to run into is that most of your subjects are trademarked which makes selling them for any purpose other than "news" a bit on the "illegal side".

I suggest joining the Sportshooter site and engaging in a discussion there for a bit more perspective on what you are wanting to do
05-14-2011, 10:25 PM   #7
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I very much agree with everything cwood just said.

The problem with your idea of shooting people at the top of their game is, guess who everyone else wants to shoot. It's not like people haven't thought of shooting stars of any sport, and for the most part, that's the only people anyone ever wants to shoot. And more importantly, the only people that photo buyers are ever looking for images of. So, right off the bat, you're throwing yourself right into thick competition.

It pretty much sounds to me like you want to be a editorial/commercial/stock photographer. Hoping to either shoot whatever images you want to try to find buyers after the fact, or making a name for shooting a certain kind of content, and hoping to receive assignments for that type of work. But you're right. You need to focus on a niche. There's very little market for generalists.
05-27-2011, 10:47 PM   #8
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Thanks to all for the comments! I've been away from the forum a few weeks and am just seeing your posts now.

QuoteQuote:
The best way to find out where you fit in the world of photography is to actually work in the trenches as a photographer for a while... but that does not sound like something you are interested in so it will be much harder for you to answer your own question here.
This is an interesting point. It's not that I'm unwilling to work in the trenches. I simply can't afford it. Believe me . . . if I had a miraculous source of ready income, I'd quit my job tomorrow and shoot full time wherever and whenever required. I'm not afraid to get dirty and pay my dues . . . I just literally can't afford to run off and join the proverbial circus right now. Therefore, my focus (pun intended) has to be quality. I simply don't have the time or money to knock out quantity.

Example? If I ask the right person on Monday morning, I could have a press pass for US Open tennis in September. Problem 1: I'd need to rent better quality gear. Problem 2: I'd need to pay for travel to NYC. Problem 3: I'd need to be able to take the time off work. None of those are options for me this year.

I'm sure I'm not the only one in this situation. If anyone on the forum can direct me to a full time photojournalism position which pays reasonably and covers all travel expenses, I'm in! The line for that opportunity stretches for miles, though!

Mine is not a isolated problem. We're called 'starving artists' for a reason. Go back in history and ask Thoreau how much he made peddling Walden in his lifetime. I have a friend who just self-published an incredible and very highly recommended book about the golf industry. Even with the kudos from very high places, he'll be lucky to cover his expenses. But those pats on the back sure will feel good.

QuoteQuote:
Just reading your post I have a few more questions:
What kind of print types/sizes have you got going already?
What are you actually trying to get out of this?

To me it sounds like 'people at the top of their game' is an awesome concept, and a strong niche in and of itself - maybe you need another way to think of working from that, rather than try to squeeze into a pre existing photo business category.
Thank you for the questions, Sam!

These are the ways I'm marketing work so far:

1) I host most of my images on Zenfolio (with prices listed), Flickr (just for exposure), and Facebook (for friends). I also have a shopping page on my website with print options. Basically 8x10ish through large frames or gallery mats. I also offer items like metals and acrylics. At the price points the labs are charging for such items + shipping, the retail sticker shock is pretty severe, though.

2) I've sent both pitch postcards and e-mails to publishers befitting events I'll be attending soon or stock I already have.

3) Most sales are local ConVis type outfits looking for images for their visitor's guides. I direct them to the appropriate gallery, ask them to choose the images they want, and outline rights-managed rates. Occasionally, a magazine comes calling, and their pre-established page rates are usually reasonable. Unless it's a special circumstance, I turn down anyone who asks to use stock photos without compensation.

4) I've dabbled in the microstock arena but am not comfortable with its structure. Getty and various wire services have not been interested primarily because I don't have high enough quality gear. My portfolio is pretty solid composition-wise, but many of my strongest images were shot back when I only had a K110D and very limited lens collection. I'd give anything to go back to some of those places with top-shelf gear!

What would I like to get out of it? I think given my current limitations, a "top of their game" gallery show and coffee table book would be a reasonable goal. However, I don't have the funds to set up my own show or self-publish yet. I will keep that option open, as the images aren't going anywhere.

Anyway . . . many thanks again to all for the food for thought. I'll continue my balance between hobbyist and freelancer until I have the funds to take a bigger leap.

05-30-2011, 10:27 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by ajtour Quote
Therefore, my focus (pun intended) has to be quality. I simply don't have the time or money to knock out quantity.
Well, believe it or not, quality actually takes more time than quantity. And anyways, if you're going to try and make your name on sheer quality, not body of work and a long running reputation, then your work had better be exceedingly better than everyone else's; which it isn't. Not trying to be harsh, but without the full time shooting experience of being pro, and the countless days and hours spent in the trenches building skills an portfolios, I think it's pretty overzealous to think that you are going to pop out wok that is of such a higher quality that people are going to pay attention to you and not them.

QuoteOriginally posted by ajtour Quote
Example? If I ask the right person on Monday morning, I could have a press pass for US Open tennis in September. Problem 1: I'd need to rent better quality gear. Problem 2: I'd need to pay for travel to NYC. Problem 3: I'd need to be able to take the time off work. None of those are options for me this year.
So basically what you're saying is, you want to be a pro, but you don't have the equipment, money or time. Again, not trying to be a douche, but that is essentially what you just said. Sure, it's a legitimate problem, and as you said, it's one that many people have to deal with. But it's up to you to figure out the way around that. Very few people, if any, went from being a part-time amateur to getting a full-time photojournalism gig with all expenses paid. The media world is a harsh place, and no one is going to give you a job in the trenches until you jump down in there and show them you can dig. Whether it means losing a bunch of sleep, finding ways to live on the cheap, skipping starbucks for a few months to get gear, maximize the weekends for shooting, network your brains out; somehow you have to find out how to put this puzzle together. But most of all, pick a focus and figure out a way to have an absolutely slammin' portfolio.

When I go to your website, it makes you out to be exactly what you admitted to being: a generalist. And unfortunately, very few people are ever looking for that. Of the handful of photo editors that I have personal relationships, they have all been explicitly clear that if you ever want a photo editor to pay attention to you, you had better have a clear focus. I'd say that is the biggest thing holding you back right now, the lack of identity as a photographer.

Cheers,

Ben
09-28-2011, 04:00 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by ajtour Quote
What would I like to get out of it? I think given my current limitations, a "top of their game" gallery show and coffee table book would be a reasonable goal. However, I don't have the funds to set up my own show or self-publish yet. I will keep that option open, as the images aren't going anywhere.

I'm not sure what the U.S. version is like, but I used the U.K. Lulu site to self publish a book of poetry written by my father. Obviously the prices will be different for photos, as opposed to text, but it only cost 7.99 for a paperback and about 20 for a hardback. Delivery was extra, and marketing is up to you, but it's a good place for a starting point
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