Words - Industry - Photography on the Internet

 

Photography on the Internet - The ultimate marketing tool? (2001)
 

Plug in to any Internet search engine and tap in 'photography'. We all do it! Expecting something spectacular, John Chillingworth found a curiously confused approach to the much-vaunted photo-sales panacea of the 21st century, prompting him to demand an answer to the rhetorical question. How will it be for you?

The Internet, an irresistible force as it has become, is affecting the lives of photographers and the companies that serve them right now, whether they like it or not.

Like the Internet, photography has a broad spectrum of applications, so it is hardly surprising that by putting the two together there can sometimes be more headaches than fruitful partnerships!

Ask around and there will still be photographers who, when asked for their web address, are embarrassed by that simple 21st century question. Like the realisation that digital imaging does not herald the end of photography, photographers serious about their future in the business will find that an Internet presence makes downright common sense.

As digitally enlightened Martin Evening who, despite his own heavy photographic commitments, has assumed responsibility for the hard-working web site put up by the Association of Photographers says, "In my judgement, there can very few be professionals, today, who do not have some kind of presence on the Web. It may only be a listing on the Association site, or representation by an agent or gallery, but there is now an imperative for a photographer, in responding to a client enquiry, to be able to offer a way of seeing sample images at the touch of a button".

Your Internet presence
When examining the options open to individual photographers, it would be all too easy to provide lists and league tables of marketing success stories and whiz-bang Web designers who will take your money (a lot of it) and run.

A more prudent course of action would be to make your own appraisal of the Internet marketing scene in your particular field of operation. Take a stroll down the broad, leafy avenue of Web presence opportunities, then make your own decisions about the advantages or otherwise of marketing your skills on the 'net'.

Talking to professionals with an existing web site, it is apparent that putting up a site could galvanise your business on to a higher profit plateau or soak up your money with no tangible return on investment. Be prudent - set aside the ego-trip approach and learn from your contemporaries' mistakes.

Are you into 'organised' photography? A start to your enquiries will almost certainly be to examine the web presence of your professional association...if you have one. If you do not, well look anyway!

Looking at www.bipp.com a prospective client, having struggled past the corporate promotion, may finally break through into listings of photographers with specific skills in a chosen area.

The irrelevance of other aspects of the site, like scans of glitzy images from a two-year-old exhibition, may stand in the way of a profitable wedding enquiry, or a new commission in the commercial field. Looking on the bright side, because web sites can change rapidly, more intelligent use of that particular web space may have already been initiated.

Similarly the small, but beautiful, Master Photographers Association at www.mpauk.com/ is also keen to tell prospective members about corporate services, but it makes access to the services of its members, mainly social, wedding and portrait photographers, an altogether more user-friendly business.

For the 'organised' photographer, however marginal the benefit of being listed, there is evidence that organisations hell-bent on taking more of their money, are paying lip-service to members interests in this potentially bright new century!

The Association of Photographers, has always been more focused on the promotion of photographer/client relationships. Currently, the site www.aophoto.co.uk is being re-designed to expand listings and links, improve access to members' portfolio entries and incorporate interactive elements, which should help speed, even further, client/photographer contact.

The Association's Web presence, strongly influenced by photographer Martin Evening, is an essential aspect of its member services, which include legal and copyright advice, workshops and social events, career advice and much more.

The creative image created by the new site aims to enhance the status of top-flight advertising and editorial photography; an area where fewer professionals from other disciplines dare to say, "It's a pity you are only a photographer!"

Although hardly a typical Association member, Evening, author of 'Adobe Photoshop 6.0 for Photographers, published by Focal Press, is impressed by the fact that photographers working away from the London 'photo-maelstrom' are often making better use of Internet than 'big city' professionals.

In his opinion, individual photographers' sites are, in the main, primitive. That need not be a criticism, however, because for many photographers, a sophisticated 'all bells-and-whistles' site, for which they have paid fashionable 'design-sharks' too much cash could be an embarrassment if their personal IT skills are lacking.

Evening shrewdly observes that as demand for digital solutions increase, more and more photographers will have the confidence to use existing software to create a 'mini-web site' in ten minutes flat. Regularly updated, such a site can do sterling work for photographers, whatever aspect of the business they are working in!

In the US, it seems that every person who has ever picked up a camera has a web site. In addition, individuals with a modicum of computer literacy are offering web design at around $180.00 (130.00) a page, to everybody from the self-employed, through to small businesses and even 'senior citizens'. Like US professional photography, the sites are either brilliant or mediocre to the point of tedium!

Planning to do it yourself in the race to establish a promotional web site, can be as easy as falling off a log or as frustrating as setting up the video recorder, which your 'partner' can fix at the flick of that button you can never find! It just depends upon the way in which you address the subject.

Knocking up a site on Microsoft Publisher, creating it in Photoshop or Dreamweaver, even going to www.download.com to locate freeware or shareware, then buying Microsoft Front Page 2000 to upload your site to the 'net' may be easy for some.

Others, appalled at the 'computer-speak', will be more circumspect. They will probably have noticed that the Home Page of most Internet Service Providers includes advice on connecting to the 'net'.

Take a look and you will be advised, before you start, to consult Web design and hosting directories, look at Domain Name Services, study the Free Web Communities like Yahoo! Geocites, Homestead, Moonfruit, Tripod or Xoom and identify the options you have for Web development.

Browse Demon Internet, Virgin Biznet, NewNet, Digiserve and NetBenefit. The experience may cure you of DIY ambitions, but if you are inspired by the stream of available advice and move forward to design your own site, you will not be alone!

Commercial photographer Phil Brown based in Hull is a hardworking professional with appreciative clients. They include catalogue companies, commercial and industrial enterprises and the like.
After plunging into web site design to create a passive, but hard hitting, lively site utilising his Internet Service Provider's free web space at www.departmentx.demon.co.uk, he was so successful that he found himself being asked to create sites for some of his clients.

Brown makes no claim to be highly computer-literate, to the extent that graphic designers feel the need to reaching for their 'worry-beads'.

He is not even conscious that his web site has directly enhanced his turnover, but he is vitally aware that his role as a working photographer in the 21st century must keep on evolving, if he is to keep pace with the opportunities, which the Internet will eventually provide.

Across the Pennines in Skelmersdale, offering wedding coverage and location portraits, social photographer Bob Skalyck trades as Nicole Photography. Whilst most of his competitors were content to have a 'holding page' on the Web, he sat down at his computer seven months ago and, following the standard software guidelines, created a simple, effective working web site www.nicolephotography.co.uk to promote his business.

It is unsophisticated, straight from the shoulder and honest in its approach. He only promotes it on his stationery and on a hard to locate search engine, but it is beginning to work. He has even had absent family members contact him from as far away as London to order prints from a local wedding series.

"I know I ought to change it", remarked Skalycz, "I should put new images on the site and make it work harder, but I simply have not had the time!" If he is wise, he will make the time and continue to reap the benefit of a web presence, whilst other social photographers dither!

Operating from the centre of 'woolly' Wiltshire, educator turned commercial photographer, John Bigglestone, initially used the 'net' as a passive shop window to inform and impress prospective clients. Created for him by Karel Bechler, www.bechler.free-online.co.uk a working colleague from earlier days, it has proved to be a useful selling tool.

Re-packaging his tutorial skills, he has a second site, www.pptutor/online.com, created by a designer friend, provides a fully interactive Internet learning course, complete with individual tutorials for student subscribers. Linked to his monthly article for students published in Professional Photographer magazine, Bigglestone is clearly using Internet to provide himself with a 'good little earner'.

Meanwhile, in a busy, workaday part of West London, that famed digital workaholic, Patrick Lichfield, has a web site or two currently under development. With a full-time digital development designer on his staff briefed to create a site, he expects to take viewers on virtual reality tour of his fully functional digital studio, which he intends to hire to suitable takers, by the day.

There will also be a passive site providing biographical details of the man who must be one of the country's hardest working and enterprising professionals.

Somewhere in the future an interactive site is visualised, on which Lichfield would offer signed limited edition prints for sale, but he is not holding his breath about the launch of that one! Being a wise owl, he will enter that unproven field when the profitability of such a project is less of a pipe-dream.

One of the most fascinating personalities in British photography today, John Claridge, has just sold his London base and moved lock, stock and barrel to France.

"Working internationally", Claridge explained, "it doesn't really matter where I am based and since I have had a home in the South-West for some years, I have come to a sort of natural point of departure".

Before making the move, he commissioned a design-conscious web site to promote his commercial work, which will keep his international clients fully informed about the creative energy that has landed him so many prestigious clients around the world.

In addition, he plans to launch a 'no expense spared' site called The Claridge-Walsh Edition, to market his fine art photography; an area of photography he keeps completely separate for his commercial commitments.

Other ideas are hovering in the background and quite clearly, at his level, the Internet will be one of the building blocks for his future, based in rural France. Like everything else he does, he will use his web presence to perfection!

Selling online
Looking around at the imaging and photo-services scene, in its broadest sense, Internet is no longer a toy, but an important working tool.

London-based photographers' agent, Niall Horton-Stephens, who represents some of the great international names in photography, currently operates a 'third-generation' web site, www.horton-stephens.com, which he first commissioned some five years ago.

Site design is an important factor in his presentation of his photographers' portfolios and he has ensured that the site stays ahead of the kind of 'fashion' and digital trickery, which could detract from his client's images. "Neat functionality is the name of the game", he confided, "when you are marketing photography, a web site has to pay, not entertain!"

David Hosking, the enterprising son of the late, great bird photographer, Eric Hosking, although a brilliant nature photographer himself, also operates the Suffolk-based 'Frank Lane Picture Agency', a highly regarded stock library of wild-life images, not only his father's and his own, but a number of other 'client' photographers.

For the past six months, he has operated a superbly designed, custom-built, interactive site www.flpa-images.co.uk with direct links to his slide management system.

Image sales, are facilitated by WorldPay, one of the world's leading e-commerce companies, which provides one-stop services, enabling businesses to trade successfully online. The concept has revolutionised the way in which Hosking does business with publishers, "Although", he says, "it will take some time to register a return on the investment, the Internet is quite simply the way things are going - and we have to be there!"

On an entirely different scale, selling images online can be big business on a world embracing scale. Getty Communications, a billion pound annual turnover international company and owners of The Hulton Getty Picture Collection, market the 'active' majority of their images online.

Scanning images at the rate of three and a half thousand a month, the Hulton Getty is scheduled to hold a total of three million images online for the use of newspapers and magazines around the world.
Such mind-bending figures are probably meaningless, when considering the unreal scale of investment the company has scheduled in its bid to be biggest and best, but for Getty, online sales will be the key to future profitability!

So, when asking, "How will it be for you?" such success stories should encourage working photographers to 'bite the bullet' and find their own way of using the Internet on one form or another, to corner a piece of online action for themselves!

Ways to make Internet pay
Fortunately, Internet based enterprise in the field of social photography, prolabs and photo-finishers is keeping pace with the many other emerging e-commerce companies eager to profit from online sales.

Two years ago, John Dick was just another someone in the financial services sector, with an interest in computing. With the instinct of the archetypal British entrepreneur, the germ of an idea became a reality seventeen months ago and today, Everybodysmile Limited is already a global force for profit, which could be of vital interest to many High Street photographers.

When you view www.everybodysmile.co.uk, the world of e-commerce is knocking on your door, without the jargon and hype endemic in some Internet companies.

On offer is a unique e-commerce system designed solely for the professional photographer and which removes all the pain of becoming computer literate before profiting from online image sales.

When you register, the benefits include having your own professionally designed web site, your photographs immediately available for preview and purchase over the Internet and the potential for increased revenue from existing business. Credit card sales are made via a Barclays approved secure server, whilst digital training is part of the deal and you are promised a method of new customer introductions, too.

Online, Everybodysmile will be your instant preview wedding album, capable of reaching friends and relations that traditional albums cannot reach. There can be additional sales, too, after portrait sessions, because viewing and ordering can be done at the customers' leisure, without the pressure associated with face-to-face selling.

For the busy professional, appalled by the prospect of trial and error use of the Internet, John Dick's powerful marketing tool will be a Godsend, so if you are into social photography and dithering on the fringe of web site construction, don't hesitate - do something about it right now.

But wait. Before you leap, look at a similarly enterprising concept. Reading-based ShareAPhoto www.shareaphoto.com has created a Web Photo Album system, which enables e-commerce transactions specifically designed for the minilabs, photo-finishers and professional photographers.

Business relationships in e-commerce appear to move at break-neck speed. In the year since the launch of the ShareAPhoto service, the client list built rapidly and reads like the Debrett of the photo-industry.

Retail chains, like Max Spielmann www.maxspielmann.com in the North and Topfoto Services www.topfotoservices.com with national coverage, are examples of 'power-selling' on the 'net' and ShareAPhoto's Business Development Manager, James Hill, claims that the online album on offer is flexible enough to fine-tune to the individual requirements of professional photographers. Check it out.

Phone-a-friend
Hacking one's way through the claims to make your fortune online or making a straight-forward decision to establish an effective Web presence, you would be unwise to fall for the slick sales talk of the last Internet service company you consulted.

Because Internet services have had much of their mystique stripped away by the searing heat of competition which ever way you finally jump, it would be better to phone-a-friend or shop around with infinite care, when planning a Web presence.

An ideal starting point when coming fresh and innocent to the online revolution should be as far away as possible from the big names in the business. You need to talk to someone who avoids the 'computer-speak' syndrome!

Find a young and hungry organisation with the Avis slogan (we try harder) pinned on their office wall. If you find rapport and the figures add up, rather than being blow away, it will be worth sticking with them, because there is a good chance that you will succeed online in the wake of their own meteoric progress.

Talk to someone like Ian Harris of Web Tapestry, www.webtapestry.co.uk based in Manchester. He and a few partners, who set up the company as a result of inevitable mergers in 1999, appear to offer a broad spectrum of services, which would meet the needs of photographers.

In the absence of a friend's recommendation, companies like Web Tapestry will introduce you to web site designers, with a range of abilities. Such options enable you to control expenditure. Harris quotes starting prices of 200.00 for a simple passive site, with added Flash animation from around 300.00.

Talk to him or the person recommended by a friend and you may just find that the seemingly insurmountable barrier created by Internet hype is set aside and it becomes a pleasure for you to do business online.

That reminds me, I really must take my own advice and update my web site - I haven't looked at it for months!


Copyright John Chillingworth