How Professional Photographers Can Generate New Business with Flickr

At Black Star, we don’t work directly with Flickr — but it’s hard not to notice the photo-sharing service’s influence. With nearly five million contributors and more than 150 million images, Flickr has become the elephant in the room for any photographer who would choose to ignore it. Flickr’s photo streams and groups are prime destinations for those seeking to upload their images and improve their skills.

Buyers Are Increasingly Looking to Flickr

Frankly, when it comes to professional photography, Flickr is pretty lightweight for an elephant. Most of the photos are little more than snaps, and the bulk of the photographers are hobbyists or less. If Black Star needed a photographer, it certainly wouldn’t be the first place we’d look.

But Flickr has become the first place many buyers look — and some of these buyers are the sort that any professional would love to work for. Toyota commissioned Rebekka Gudsleifdottir, an Icelandic art student with a large Flickr following, to shoot a series of local billboards for the Prius. Microsoft bought images for Vista from a number of Flickr photographers, including a Kuwaiti medical student, and media organizations as large as the BBC and The Economist use the site as a free source of visuals for their blogs.

We don’t think Flickr is ever going to be an efficient resource for the sort of high-end clients that Black Star serves. They’ll always prefer to outsource the photographer-hunting to a company that’s done the vetting, knows the photographers and can make sure that even the toughest assignments are completed properly and on time. That’s not going to change.

But there’s no question that new opportunities are being created by Flickr — including for professional photographers. If you’re a pro who isn’t using Flickr to promote your work and business, it’s time to seriously consider doing so.

Promoting Your Work with Flickr

The best way to begin using Flickr is to upload a selection of your images to a stream, organize them neatly into sets and collections, and provide plenty of information in the photo and set descriptions to explain the shots. In effect, that gives you another portfolio that’s easy to create, and you only have to do it once.

To make it easy for potential buyers to contact you, all you need to do is include a link to your own Web site in your profile. Mike Goldberg, a semi-retired photojournalist from Boston now living in Jerusalem, has done just that on his Flickr stream. It’s not difficult to do, and it might guide at least some buyers browsing Flickr to your professional showcase.

Even more powerful, though, is Flickr’s ability to help you build a brand. Because most photographers on Flickr are amateurs or semi-pros, a professional with a good track record can quickly become a leader. Photographers such as David Bean, who runs one of the site’s largest professional groups, have become well-known among professionals, hobbyists and buyers, too, for the expert help and advice they provide to other photographers. It’s a very effective way to show off your expertise, build a name and see it spread across the Web.

The best strategy here is to focus on a niche. Flickr is filled with broadly labeled professional photography groups, but there’s still room for groups that look at one particular aspect of professional photography — whether that’s photographing oil rigs, shooting executive portraits or recording press conferences.

Once you’ve created the group, you can bring in other photographers to help run it, while you benefit from the name recognition. It might not lead directly to new jobs, but billboard ads don’t lead directly to sales, either. They increase your brand awareness — and that is valuable.

Marketing Books to Flickr Users

Finally, you can use Flickr to branch out a little.

Many of our photographers have revenue streams beyond the commissions that we provide for them. They teach at universities, and, of course, they publish books of their photography. Those services and products are aimed at a very different market from the one we usually serve; they’re targeted at photographers — the same as Flickr’s market.

If you have a book to sell, Flickr could be the best single place to market it. Create a collection that contains samples of the images in the book. Set up a group to offer advice on the type of photography depicted in the book (it’s likely that almost every member would buy it). And include plenty of links to Amazon, so that people who enjoy the images can order it right away.

We all know that Flickr wasn’t originally designed with professional photographers in mind. It wasn’t built as a commercial site, and it doesn’t do commerce particularly well.

But anytime you get five million people together who are interested in photography, business opportunities are created — especially for the more enterprising pros out there.

[tags]Flickr, photography business[/tags]

3 Responses to “How Professional Photographers Can Generate New Business with Flickr”

  1. Just who OWNs images placed on flickr??? Might want to read the terms of use. J

  2. Copyright is not really an issue with Flickr, as long as you're just putting samples out there. Also, the images are too small for many professional uses.

  3. Anh's piece misses the sadder part of the reality we live in: that there are far fewer high quality markets than there used to be.
    I put low res images on flickr, as do many other people, but the sad reality is that few of them will ever be found, in the overall scheme of things.

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