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I signed up with my very first company that offered an “archive hosting” service five years ago. At that time, my idea of what that meant was vague at best. Would they sell my pictures or just provide storage and display? Would the web system be user friendly? Would I need to buy a complicated manual? Did I need to hire an assistant for this?
Today archive hosting companies typically provide storage space, online galleries, search and client features, a user-friendly back-end management system, FTP, downloading, and hundreds of other functions that are incredibly useful if properly understood. All of this is usually bundled into a package that might cost roughly USD 50 per month. For a photographer like me, who is constantly moving, I find the service indispensable.
Today the main player in this game seems to be Photoshelter. After transferring my archive to their servers a year ago, I can say with some level of confidence that they provide a superior service, strong customer support, and a huge variety of functions (without trying to do too much, the most important thing in my opinion).
So how exactly do I manage my own archive? When I complete shoots for newspapers, magazines, and corporate clients, I upload the images to my archive, so that I can FTP the images to clients, share the work with friends and family using public light-boxes, display work to potential new clients, and allow regular clients to search for stock images to license. That might sound like a lot of work — and it is. But make no mistake, this hard work pays dividends.
I particularly find the online archive a useful tool when working on longer-term stories or projects, because as work is completed it can be uploaded and shared for client or peer review. For example I recently photographed the construction of one of Shanghai’s tallest buildings. The building owners wanted to see a monthly edit from my shoots, a progress report, as we went. During the more than two years the project lasted, I was able to bring them up to speed with new imagery, as well as service the download needs of their staff in Shanghai and Japan. My archive created a seamless delivery system — no more burning disks, no more Fedex. The online, hosted, and managed archive is here to stay.
A close friend of mine challenged my position on archive hosting by insisting that my agency should take care of all that “back-end” work for me. A lovely idea, but full-service agencies are pretty much a thing of the past. (In my experience anyway; if I’m missing some full-service agencies still out there, please let me know.) The new trend seems to be the fully functioning, independent photographer who manages his or her own pictures.
Although my photographic work is represented by Corbis, they are far from a full-service agency. They don’t have an assignment division and rely on photographers to upload on their own. They don’t scan film, they don’t do captioning and key-wording, and they edit as they see fit. This is all actually a good thing, because it allows them to focus on the most important part of the process, selling my images.
Of course, that means a lot of the work agencies used to do is now the photographer’s responsibility. While that may be a negative for some, it’s a positive for me, because I get to control the quality, layout, and organization of my own work, and then share it anyway I like. It allows me to have a closer relationship with my editors and — for a young photographer like me who sometimes feels overwhelmed with a rapidly changing industry — this offers a very rare sense of control. Plus I can link to my archive just about everywhere, post public light-boxes online using social media, and fully integrate my Photoshelter archive with my liveBooks website, in the hope that editors and image buyers can find what they are looking for with ease.
On a final note, in my particular situation, having an archive based in the U.S. is a crucial part of my business plan. Because I live behind The Great Fire Wall of China, FTP-ing work out of the country is a nightmare, so it’s best that I only have to do it once. Once I upload to my archive, it’s an easy click of the button to share work with multiple clients. Plus I never have to worry about missing a deadline because it takes 14 minutes to upload one image to a server outside of China!