The dizzying changes of the last 10 years require a new way of marketing travel-related photos.
In the first decade of the new millennium, major technological changes have fundamentally altered the travel and photography industries. For both fields, the effect has been one of democratization.
Prices for digital SLR cameras have dropped, thereby lowering the barriers to entry for photographers, who are now able to access cameras with high enough resolution to meet the strict submission standards of stock agencies. Travel shooters are getting more instant logistics help than ever before with sophisticated planning tools like travel applications for mobile phones and other digital devices (including Lonely Planet's interactive iPad applications). More than 7,000 travel blogs have also sprung up, covering such far-ranging topics as "best airports to sleep in" or "best beaches in Turkey." Through user-generated review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp, travelers can avoid the tried-and-true landmarks, capturing images off the beaten path. Add to the mix the growth of airline ticket aggregators such as Orbitz and Kayak, and the end result is that people can travel more affordably — and more knowledgeably — to more distant locales armed with better-quality cameras than ever before.
Once all these itinerant photographers make it to an internet connection, digital upload allows for rapid inclusion in stock-photo sites such as lonelyplanetimages.com, launched by Lonely Planet Images (LPI) in 2001. With this kind of web access, image buyers are now able to see more fresh imagery with a broad global coverage than ever before.
The internet has also created new global markets for photographers. As LPI photographer Richard Cummins says, the internet has "radically changed the way in which images are sold by professional stock photographers. You now have a worldwide market and can sell in China as quickly and easily as [in] North America. You are no longer limited by language, having to make film duplicates or sending submissions via courier service."
Fighting tech with tech
Technology, however, has proven to be a double-edged sword for the stock photography industry. While the ease of getting images to today's marketplace may seem like an easy win for photo buyers and photographers alike, it means there is more "noise" for image researchers to slog through in order to find the perfect needle in the image haystack. Photographers, in turn, have to work harder to make sure their images stand out from the crowd.
The industry has responded with new technological solutions such as the web-crawling site PACASearch.com, launched last year by the Picture Archive Council of America. This tool greatly speeds up photo research and delivers precise, clickable results by simultaneously searching by keywords and other metadata on all of the participating stock sites. Stock agencies that participate in PACASearch and other web crawlers can increase exposure for their collection exponentially.
Photo-sharing sites such as Flickr.com, as well as microstock sites like istock.com, which offer extremely low-cost images with a pay-by-credit model, have greatly expanded the marketplace of digital images available for licensing. Although not all of the images on Flickr are available to license, the astronomical quantity of images (a recent visit to Flickr revealed that in the span of one minute, 5,557 images had been uploaded) has upset the balance of supply and demand, forcing lower pricing throughout the stock-photo industry.
Not all images are created equal, however. So even in the face of all the competition, all hope is not lost. Images available through Flickr and microstock sites are likely to be of inconsistent quality, both technically and aesthetically. And even when photo buyers do find a hidden gem with sufficient megapixels for a good reproduction, licensing can be a bit tricky. At LPI, for instance, photo researchers tend to shy away from using Flickr images in the guidebooks because it's difficult to confirm who actually shot the image. Often, the images are taken without securing model or property releases as well, creating a potential liability concern.
The good news is that art buyers still need to make an impact with unique imagery that will not cause technical and legal challenges. This means there's still room for photographers who go the extra mile to find interesting perspectives, capture them in hi-res DSLR format, and secure appropriate releases. "Good images will always sell, and any person considering photography needs to take more than technically good pictures," says LPI's Cummins. "Composition, good use of color and light, and a creative eye will lead to success."
The iPad revolution
One of the most recent game changers is Apple's iPad. For some photographers, it's become an invaluable traveling companion.
Swiss-born LPI photographer Felix Hug claims it's now "unthinkable" to travel without the iPad, which he calls "the best investment for me in 2010."
A full-time destination photographer since 2003, and winner of the Asian Geographic Grand Prize, the International Photography Award and the Image of the Year from American Photography, Hug uses the iPad for on-site productions and marketing campaigns as well as to run helpful travel-related apps. (For more on Hug's work, visit eyesonasia.net.)
The iPad has also challenged existing photo licensing models as rights-managed agencies try to sort out how they are compensated for digital products. For example, access to the iPad version of magazines usually costs readers a small fee. Many publishers are now asking for this use to be included in the existing photo licensing fee structure.
While the fee issue poses headaches for people on both sides of the licensing coin, there are many opportunities presented by the iPad and other digital ancillaries to print products. Slide shows published in e-book, mobile phone, web and iPad versions often have many more images than the printed product, and they may also have video clips. Cameras that have the capacity for both video and still images, such as the Canon 5D, have prompted many agencies to advise shooting in both formats.
The next frontier
It's hard to predict what else will arrive on the digital frontier, but it's a safe bet that there will be more hoops for photographers to jump through to compete. The flip side is that travel photographers now have a huge array of new tools to help them on their journey. Here are a few examples of apps, websites and products that you may soon find invaluable on your next travel shoot:
- Golden Hour – Provides comprehensive information on the sun for any day of the year and helps photographers plan for the best possible light.
- Word Lens – A fascinating new tool that translates signs and menus using your mobile-phone camera, much like a visual Google Translator.
- TravelMuse – This app saves pages from any travel site on the internet (including LonelyPlanet.com) in one place and creates a trip itinerary that incorporates the information.
- Planely.com - If you don't want to travel alone, this site can help you find a travel buddy.
- Nikon CoolPix S1000pj – This model is both a camera and an instant projector, so you won't have to wait until you get home to share a slide show.
Whether all of this technology elicits fear or excitement in you, remember: Change has always been a part of this business. Photographers have been capturing people's imagination since the early days, with whatever tools they had. In the 1860s, when Gustave Le Gray traipsed around the Mediterranean and the Middle East, he had to haul black-and-white large-format cameras and glass plate negatives along with him. Le Gray had to master the technology of his time, but what mattered more was that he took inspiring photographs that made people wish they had been with him on his journey.
If you embrace the technology of your day, and constantly challenge yourself to inspire as he did, then perhaps you can bring us all along on your journey.