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Name: Joe Riis
Location: Moose, Wyoming right now and moving to Bijou Hills, South Dakota, early in 2010. I want to live in a cabin on the prairie.
Full-time job: Wildlife photographer and videographer
Personal project name and short description
Pronghorn Passage, a conservation photography project that focuses on the Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration. Each fall a herd of 400 pronghorn antelope migrate from Grand Teton National Park down into the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, a total round-trip journey of 300 miles. This migration is the second longest overland mammal migration in the western hemisphere (after caribou in Alaska). The migration corridor is being squeezed down by residential development and mineral extraction on the private and public lands that it crosses. Pronghorn Passage is a collaborative project between myself and essayist Emilene Ostlind.
When and why did you start it?
The project was actually Emilene’s idea; she approached me and wanted to work together. She is a writer, and was just finishing up working at National Geographic Magazine and as Steve Winter’s assistant on his snow leopard story in India. She was coming back home to Wyoming to write a selection of essays about the pronghorn migration and wanted me to photograph it. At the time, I was just finishing up a 2-year conservation photography project on environmental threats to the Missouri River. I was ready to start photographing something new, and the pronghorn project, which had never been photographed before, seemed like a great idea.
I started researching and filling out grant applications in November 2007, and started my fieldwork in May 2008, the day after I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s in Wildlife Biology. We got the project fully funded through the National Geographic Expeditions Council, The Banff Centre, University of Wyoming, North American Nature Photographers Association, Grand Teton National Park, and Patagonia the clothing company. I feel very fortunate to have received so much financial backing for the project, which has allowed me to focus all my efforts on fieldwork.
I am still surprised by the support we got, but the bottom line is that the pronghorn story had all the elements to a good wildlife story. A small herd of pronghorn migrating a super long distance over an incredible landscape, under threat, that had never been photographed before — plus we were two young Wyomingites who wanted to live with pronghorn. The reason is hadn’t been photographed before is because it takes a huge time commitment, at least a full year. No one knew exactly where they were migrating so I had to do field biology before I could photograph it. Because most of my work is by camera trap, I have to know exactly where the animals are moving.
Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »
I’ve talked and written about how photographers need to look beyond the stock agencies to market their images. There are a host of pros and cons to these alternate business models, but the need to drive traffic to your website is always the tallest hurdle. No single approach will do. Instead, you need to attract attention, and keep it, by projecting your brand across a range of media platforms and by creating mutually beneficial collaborations. Here are some tips for how all kinds of photographers can do that.
Once you have a collection of images, see if you can create an association with other photographers to market a particular class of subjects. Photoshelter makes that easy with their Virtual Agencies, but there are several ways to accomplish the same thing. By grouping your work with that of other photographers, all of you can offer a wider selection of similarly themed work to potential buyers. My work is available alongside images from Thomas Mangelsen and David Doubilet at WILD, our virtual agency.
If each photographer does a good job of file naming and keywording, a buyer is more likely to find your image collection. Online galleries also allow you to display a larger selection of your work than an editor at an agency would allow. This is not an invitation to self-indulgence, however; show only your best or most saleable work.
I steer clear of microstock. If you can produce what the market demands in high volume, there is money to be made there, but it tends to encourage “treadmill shooting,” a mentality of “generate content” instead of creating art. Forgive me if I stick to Rights Managed and Royalty Free.
Once your collective is up and running, or even if you decide to fly solo, contact all your existing clients with the news. Buy and use lists of prospective clients, like those provided by Agency Access and other services. More »
I was to a friend recently why I am writing these posts for RESOLVE. She said, “You’re doing this for free?” I replied that she was missing the point of social networking. Every bit of exposure has value. Every email, every crosslink, every mention of your name. In that vein, I recently started a blog to complement our hugely popular (and free) BIRDS AS ART Bulletins, which are emailed to more than 10,500 folks several times a month.
Several times while leading a tour at a popular spot like the Venice Rookery in Florida I’ve had a member of my group ask me at lunch, “Artie, that guy asked you a question about exposure. Why did you answer him? He didn’t pay for the tour.” I usually answer by saying, “I’m a nice guy” (and that is true). But folks need to understand that every tiny encounter like that counts.
When I think back to the first slideshow that I ever did (I got paid a whole $10), somebody who saw it said, “Hey, my nephew works for Natural History magazine, why don’t you send him some pictures?” Add up two decades of things like that, all those folks you’re nice to at a workshop, all of those e-mails, and the result is success.
When I was doing lots of articles for Bird Watcher’s Digest, I took a rare assignment to do an interview with John Kenneth Terres, the editor of the Audubon Encyclopedia of North American Birds. He told a story about how it was raining in New York and he had an umbrella and went out in front of this building to get a cab. A guy without an umbrella came running towards the cab, and John said, “Go ahead, you take it.” And the guy said, “Oh thanks,” and got in the cab.
A week later, John went in for an interview; he was hoping to get hired as editor of Audubon magazine. Who was sitting behind the desk? The guy that he gave the cab to. John Kenneth Terres was a very literary person and he eventually found an anonymous quote in Barlett’s Book of Quotations: “Be kind to strangers, you may be entertaining an angel unawares.” That quote has pretty much dictated one of them major philosophies my adult life: Why not be nice? The more love you put out, the more love is going to come back at you. One of the most rewarding things for me is that every day I get emails saying, “Oh, Artie, thanks; you helped me so much.” And e-mails like that are quite rejuvenating — they keep me going.
If you’re open to chance encounters, encounters that seem innocuous at best, they can turn out to be life changing. My friend John Shaw had done a great book for Amphoto, The Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques. For years I dreamed of doing a similar book for Amphoto on bird photography. I called Robin Simmen and left a phone message: “I’d really love to do a bird photography book for you.” I never heard from her.
Then about six week later, at a North American Nature Photography Association summit, I was standing in line to make a phone call. I turned around and there’s a short woman standing there. Her name tag says “Robin Simmen, Amphoto.” I said, “Hi Robin, I left you a phone message in December and never heard from you.” She came to my booth, looked at my work, and said, “OK, we’re going to do this.”
That led to the original publication of The Art of Bird Photography. It wound up selling more than 30,000 for Amphoto and becoming the linchpin of my career. When the book went out of print, it was still in huge demand, selling for as much as $500 on e-Bay, so we recently bought the rights from Amphoto and reprinted 5,000 copies in Hong Kong.
I often give people who are interested in the business of photography a quiz: “Say I print 10,000 copies of a little booklet on bird photography that costs me $20,000. Does it make any sense for me to sell them for $2?” Everybody says, “No, you just broke even.” I respond, “Not exactly.”
If you sell all 10,000, that’s 10,000 people out there who think you know what you’re doing when it comes to bird photography. We actually went that route (although we sold the booklets for $10 not $2 — *smile*). That little book became a calling card and the pedestal of what’s turned out for me to be an amazing career. I could never have dreamed of the huge success that I’ve had, could never have envisioned being where I am today. As I say often, “You gotta love it.”
Miki Johnson: Let’s talk a little bit about your book.
Ian Shive: The book is a 224-page, hard cover, coffee table book on the American National Parks. This is the latest and a most updated look at the parks, a modern look at a classic subject. We included six or seven places that you’ll know — the other 185 pages you’ll have to read the caption to know where that is.
The layout is also unusual. Traditionally national park books have been grouped by region or park. We bounced back and forth across all these different parks. We might show a red maple leaf on a brown pine needles in Maine, and then that color or shape relates to something in Yellowstone National Park in the middle of winter. It was our goal to show the colors and collaborations that happen in nature and are so similar no matter where you go.
MJ: And was this something that the national parks came to you about? Or was this an idea you had?
IS: The parks turn 100 years old in 2016, and I wanted to do a book on the Centennial. I have great collection of images, and I decided to work on a book over five years and develop this idea. So I started sending some emails around to gauge interest from publishers.
Cristina Mittermeier at International League of Conservation Photographers hooked me up with a publisher in California. They called and were like, we love your idea — how would you like to do the book in four months? I said okay, but I needed to pick up a few shots in the meantime. It’s pretty exciting because, from what I understand, every Borders in the country is going to having it on their front table.
MJ: That’s exciting. Is that something that you arranged or the publisher did? How did that happen?
IS: It was through the publisher. And once I had made the deal with the publisher to do this book I brought in the National Park Conservation Association as a partner. I had done a lot of work with them, and the two lead editors of the magazine have been instrumental in guiding my career as a national park photographer. So I asked them to write two essays for the front of the book, and then the president of the organization also contributed the book’s forward. They also have an insert in the book, so it helps further their message, and I’ve given a percentage of the proceeds back to the NPCA.
MJ: So tell me about these webisodes you’re doing.
IS: I’ve been working on multimedia for a while, exploring the collaboration between film, video, and still photography. For the book I had to go and pick up some shots; I had this great archive of national park sites but I didn’t have the obvious shots of Old Faithful, or Delicate Arch, or the Grand Canyon from Angel Point. The publisher said, you can do whatever you want on the other 200 pages, but there’s certain things that we need in a national park book from a market perspective. And I agreed.
So I put together a road trip to travel through the entire American West over about five weeks. I brought Russell Chadwick, who is my partner in video and multimedia, and he shot footage with his HD video camera. The idea was to get a little bit of the park, show me doing my thing, and build a multimedia piece for the web. At first we were just going to do one piece, about the making of the book, as a promo tool.
When we got back and looked at everything, the footage was stunning. We had time lapses of fog going over the mountains in Glacier and Logan Pass, and thunderstorms in White Sands, New Mexico. We had so much stuff, we decided to turn it into four six-minute segments, called Wild Exposure.
I came from a strong motion picture background, so I shared the videos with some friends in the industry and they were like, this is incredible. You’ve got to do something else with it. So I showed it around to a few people in the television network world, which has been a more arduous journey than I anticipated. But I’ve persevered, and the show’s scheduled to air this week on Current Television.
I had a meeting in San Francisco and shared the first segment with them. They thought it was really different and it fit really well with their programming. They weren’t all about changing it. They were into what the show embodies, the kind of Zen moments and a soft conservation message. They’ve agreed to run the four-part series, so 50 million U.S. households and 142,000 web visitors a day will be exposed to the show.
MJ: And they’re running these short pieces?
IS: Current has a unique approach to how they do the programming. It’s not like ABC where something begins at 7:00 and ends at 7:30 and has seven minutes worth of commercials or whatever. They have five-minute shows, two-minute shows, twenty-three-minute shows, and they all flow together. So there was no need to expand or force an expansion on the pieces.
We feel like the web has really shortened people’s attention spans. To get somebody to sit down and watch a show for 30 minutes is difficult these days. One of the strengths with Current is you can do a tightly edited, compelling six-minute show and achieve your goal, either a message of conservation or even advertising. So the show will exist as six-minute units that are spaced out. We are also looking at potentially marrying all four to be a twenty-four-minute segment.
MJ: So how do these episodes fit into your larger marketing strategy for the book?
IS: I think getting people to invest in what you’re doing is the most important part of marketing. Let’s say you walk into a Borders and you look at this book, but you’ve never seen anything else besides it. It might sell itself, certainly. But you can really augment that emotional connection that people have to the book if they have seen this six-minute segment on Glacier National Park. Somehow they feel a more personal connection with what you’re doing, and that’s when they actually buy to the book. Or they decide to crack it open and give it a longer look than they would have before.
MJ: Have you thought about how the book and episodes translate into increased visibility for you as a photographer?
IS: With 50 million U.S. households, it’s going to be very interesting. I have no idea what I’m in for. I’m hoping nothing. The last thing I want to do is get to a national park and have a ranger ask if I have a commercial filming permit.
I hope that Wild Exposure will continue beyond the book. And one thing that I have begun to discuss with the network is making the show more interactive. How cool would it be to have me in the field, and let’s say I’m doing a story on poaching in Africa, you can actually meet that poacher and hear his perspective, then introduce other characters who embody this type of conservation photography.
I also want it to stay true to Current’s prime demographic, which is 18- to 34-year-olds. I want it to continue to appeal to a younger, sophisticated, edgier, hip audience. I feel like that group is so often overlooked — certainly in nature photography. I think it’s usually geared toward older audiences, but the conservation message is all over.
MJ: Did you fund these Wild Exposure episodes yourself?
IS: I did. The payoff is the marketing. Right now there’s no money being made off it. It’s purely a marketing and promotional tool that I hope will grow into something that generates income at some point, maybe as a regular television series. Or at the very least, you know, just boosting my profile as a photographer. It’s an incredibly crowded marketplace, and everybody’s looking to get their voice heard. If you’re a book publisher and you’re looking to do a book on anything, and if your photographer shooting things, then producing a series that can be placed on the web or television seems obvious.
MJ: It sounds like it’s all paying off, but I suppose it’s always a gamble.
IS: It is. People might not respond to it. It’s very exciting, but I’m putting myself out there in many ways. I’m putting myself out there not only in print in a book, but also the show, too. People are seeing me peeking out of a tent. They’re seeing what I’m shooting, how I’m shooting it, what results I’m getting, and then they see the product I’m putting out. One thing about today’s media, and especially the web, there is a brutal honesty that I love, but it’s also brutally honest. So I’m prepared a little bit for that. I just hope people like what I’m putting out there so that I can continue to do what I love.
As we look around the photojournalism world today, it’s hard not to worry about one trend in particular: Newspapers, magazines, and wire services have been cutting pages, budgets, and staff positions, for years — and they’re not coming back. With fewer staff jobs to go around, more photographers than ever are deciding to work for themselves. Being the innovators that photographers are, they’re exploring new markets, new mediums, and new skill sets, especially those needed to run a business.
Some former staff photojournalists saw the writing on the wall long ago and now run their own thriving businesses. Many more have made strides in the last year or two, but still have a few questions — or they’re planning to make a move soon and have lots of questions.
Next week, August 10-14, RESOLVE will run five days of posts designed to answer these questions. Of course, no one person has the answer to all questions, especially the big ones about where the industry is going and how photography will continue to be profitable. But every photographer and editor and rep out there has the answer to one or two questions. That’s why we’ve asked as many as possible to share their experiences.
We’ve talked to dozens of former staff photographers working in a range of markets and will share their insights with you in daily posts next week. Each day we’ll also explore and explain an alternative market for photojournalists, including commercial assignments, wedding photojournalism, fine-art, and working with NGOs.
On top of that, an “expert of the day” will be available to answer questions in real-time as you ask them. They’re here to help, but we also need people will come together and help each other. We’ve heard about so much of this going on offline, we know you’ll have a lot to share here online as well.
If you are now or have ever been a staff photographer, please check in next week and join the discussion: ask a question, offer advice, and make some new contacts. If you’d like to contribute your thoughts about transitioning from a staff position, please email us this week: resolve [at] livebooks [dot] com. We’d love to hear from you and share your story (and website) with the community!
The Associated Press announced that plans are underway to create a registry that will track online usage of AP content, including text, photos, and videos. The registry is expected to launch early next year, which will cover only AP text content initially, and be extended to AP member content as well as photos and videos eventually. Click on the image on the left to see a diagram explaining how the registry works.
Back in April, we talked about Chris Usher’s lawsuit against Corbis. Turns out Judge Sotomayor was one of three judges who ruled on the case. While most in the photo community are concerned that the case will become a judicial reference, consultant Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua disagrees. Read her well-versed argument here, here and here.
Although there is no final word yet, edvidence suggests that Robert Capa’s iconic “Falling Soldier” photo was likely staged. Interest in the authenticity of the image has been rekindled as a result of a new traveling exhibition in Spain, which was organized by the International Center of Photography. Philip Gefter has a thoughtful essay on NYT’s Lens regarding this and other iconic staged images.
Kudos for Judge Tomar Mason for upholding the rights of photographers and journalists – a photojournalist student at San Francisco State University, whose name was not identified by request of his lawyer, does not have to surrender his photographs of a murder scene to police under the state’s shield law. Wired has the full story.
The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. this week has not only been the latest topic of racial profiling, but also of citizen journalism. The widely distributed photo taken at the time of the arrest did not come from a news agency, but from the London-based “citizen journalist” site Demotix. PDN has more on the story, as does Fred Ritchin at After Photography.
Infamous downtown artist Dash Snow, only 27 years old, died July 13 of a drug overdose at a hotel in New York City. His controversial art and photography drew comparisons to Nan Goldin and Andy Warhol and was mentioned in Jorge Colberg’s post on Conscientious asking “What makes art?”
Renowned outdoor photographers Art Wolfe, David Doubilet, and Thomas Mangelsen have embraced a new “virtual stock agency” model developed by PhotoShelter. They have teamed up to create an agency called Wild. Art, a RESOLVE contributor, explains the decision in a great piece in Outdoor Photographer Magazine.
The Prix Pictet announced its shortlist of 12 international photographers during a special screening at the 40th Rencontres d’Arles last week. We are excited to see RESOLVE contributor Ed Kashi on the list. Other familiar names include Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson and Portugese-born photographer Edgar Martins, who found himself in the middle of a recent photoshop controversy.
After the French government allowed priceless Henri Cartier-Bresson images to be damaged and then promised to destroy them, the images have reemerged in the art market, in an incident that The Online Photographer has cheekily dubbed “oeuf on face.”
There has been a tremendous amount of buzz lately around Wired editor Chris Anderson’s new book Free (which you can, of course, read for free). The basic premise is that if you give something away, more people will “purchase” it than at any other price point (even one cent) and then money can be made on that group, through advertising, secondary sales, etc.
There are big examples (like Google giving away all their services and making money off their associated ads) and smaller ones (like Prince giving away his CD in London’s The Daily Mail, boosting ticket sales for him and circulation for the Mail).
Rob at APhotoEditor predicted a few months ago, “I suspect [Anderson is] going to take a real thrashing on this one since it seems the tide has turned on free. All anyone is talking about these days is subscriptions, premium upgrades and advertising.” His prediction has largely come true, with the New York Times refuting most of Anderson’s points in its review. Malcom Gladwell makes a strong case against Free in the New Yorker as well, which Chase Jarvis referenced in a recent post, after invoking a small firestorm earlier this year when he posted about Anderson’s original Free story in Wired.
Obviously the big question here is, how does this apply to photographers? Craig Swanson of CreativeTechs makes a smart point in Chase’s “featured comment”: “generic stock image libraries are among the digital products already on a steady march towards ‘Free’…while…the availability of, for example, ‘Chase Jarvis’ is quite scarce these days. (Scarce items maintain and even increase their value). So I think this has a lot to do with how we manage our careers and art in the future. To maintain our value we must become our own monopoly.”
I have talked to a lot of photographers and photo industry professionals about the importance of building an audience for themselves, building a reputation around quality work, industry knowledge, and personality. To do that, you often have to give away some things for free. Here are a few models that seem to be working.
Give away content, sell expertise
MediaStorm distributes its top-notch multimedia pieces for free, but makes a tidy sum on its workshops teaching professional photographers and journalists how to make multimedia pieces (and even some of those are free).
Give away general expertise, sell specific expertise
Consultants such as Mary Virginia Swanson and RESOLVE contributor Amanda Sosa Stone and Leslie Burns-Dell’Acqua, along with photographers like Art Wolfe, share their extensive knowledge for free online, knowing that people will pay for their consulting or teaching services once they have gotten to know and trust their work. (What Mary does might actually fit better in the above category, since she provides great information on her blog about events and deadlines, as opposed to generalized versions of her consultations.)
Give away your vision, sell your “monopoly”
It’s not surprising that Chase pulled out that comment about “becoming your own monopoly” or that he himself is the prime example. By constantly sharing his insights, expertise, even iPhones with his huge audience, Chase has created a kind of creativity factory with a built-in audience — clients are no longer just paying for his images, they are paying to be part of that community.
Give away involvement, sell the product
Photographer Simon Roberts has been keeping a detailed blog journal of his process of shooting, editing, and publishing his latest book, We English. Along the way he has done things to help his growing audience feel like part of the creation process, like offering free prints to the first 150 people who wrote him with an idea for something inherently “English.” Having a built-in, engaged audience like this can only help sales of his book and prints.
Give away the filter, charge for the content
This model has fewer proven examples but I think it has great potential. Since everyone is giving content away for free, what becomes valuable is a filter that you trust. PDN recently highlighted the importance of “digital curators,” like Flak Photo, Conscientious, and I Heart Photography, as the first layer of filtering, which galleries are now turning to for new artists. But these filter sites will have to become profitable themselves soon; one way could be for them to become distributors of the art they feature. Or they likely have some other things up their sleeves that I haven’t even thought of. (Stay tuned for a discussion with Flak Photo founder Andy Adams on this topic soon.)
Photography as a profitable business in some ways depends on individuals’ ability to flesh out these models and decide which one (or combination of several) works for them. What are the downsides to each of these? What other models am I missing that seem to work? Obvisouly there are many that don’t depend on the “free” mentality at all. Do you think those can hold out against the free content?
The New York Times Magazine pulled a photo essay by Edgar Martins after Minnesota computer programmer Adam Gurno pointed out one of the photographs was digitally altered. Starting as a comment thread on MetaFilter, the debate quickly heated up in the photo blogosphere. The controversy generated so much buzz that Talking Points Memos picked it up. More discussion here, here and here.
Some philosophical questions have also been raised around a photograph from Xinjiang, China, another of a woman in front of two military trucks. It evokes the famous “tank man” photo; however, a video clip on the Guardian shows that the trucks were actually backing away from her. Full analysis at The New Dominion.
Todd Walker from The Gallery Hopper linked to a great ongoing piece called “My Best Shot” in The Guardian, which includes interviews with 100+ photographers discussing the one image they are proudest of.
The Lucie Foundation is hosting an outdoor projection series called Pro’jekt LA at Space 15Twenty in Los Angeles starting on July 16. Three photographers will be featured in each show, on the third Thursday of the month through September. Tania Fernandez, Jeaneen Lund and one special guest will kick off the series.