Testing the future of commercial photography

(Last Updated On: June 9, 2009)

Marketing and advertising are changing. Successful assignment photographers will need to adjust by adding value. To know the future of commercial photography is to understand how advertisers are and will be creating their campaigns. 

There is a huge demand for imagery. There is more space on the Web for photographers’ work. Budgets are smaller than ever. There is a glut of photographers in the world to fill that need. 

Micro-stock is here; it’s a standard and it’s filling the void. I’ve said it before: I will not sell my photography for a dollar. But I won’t knock those who do. It’s a wasted effort.

Marketers need more imagery because campaigns cycle faster than in the past. Imagery needs to be updated faster. Advertisers have the ability and need to test concepts cheaper and more efficiently. Stock photography lends itself very well to this scenario. If marketers can test a lot of inexpensive generic stock images and ultimately use the one that works best, they can score big for their client.

Offering clients custom photography ideas, concepts and packaging will create a greater chance of connecting with unique consumer niches. Generic images, such as men and women sitting at their desks chatting on cell phones, are not always effective. Generic photography often produces generic results.

Assignment photographers aren’t accommodating the new marketing needs in the custom photography arena. I think it will be important for photographers in the future to offer multiple options in their package rates so advertisers can test results.

We have to remember when it comes to selling a product or service, our opinion ultimately doesn’t count. Your client’s favorite photograph isn’t necessarily the winner. The art director’s vision many not pique the customer’s interest.

Don’t get me wrong: The art director’s concept and the photographer’s vision do play a major role in the creation of strong images. But sometimes even a minor shift in an image series will produce more favorable results. In the past, testing was expensive and the decision-maker’s opinion — right or wrong — was the bottom line. The Internet allows for inexpensive testing. This often makes the difference between average results and hitting a home run.

What can be tested? Everything. Expressions, colors, composition, models, lighting and set adjustments might make for a stronger result. How often has one of your clients used an image that you felt wasn’t the strongest in the set? Who was to blame when it didn’t perform?

Offering packages of multiple images can create a unique modern option for advertisers.

Even if you are a photographer who gives clients all the images on CD (I don’t recommend this.), the decision maker will, in most cases, still only select and use one image per advertisement.  The testing conversation needs to begin with your  clients.

Photographers should offer advertising packages, such as three images to test and one to use for the full campaign. Maybe three flexible-use licenses or maybe two short-term licenses and one long-term license is the answer. The options are endless. Ultimately, the client should make more money and discover the value of custom photography. When this happens,the creative team wins.

The days of advertisement creation by committee are dying. Marketers need to focus on what captures the consumer’s attention.

Becoming an innovator and allowing for new marketing experimentation will increase your value as a photographer. Developing a climate that allows clients to plan for and test creative concepts will be a major key to the success of commercial photography in the future.

What are you doing to innovate in the new marketing environment?


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