By Paul Queneau
With stock agencies on the skids, online sharing sites offer a powerful way to get your work in front of buyers. Just choose your keywords carefully.
I recently typed “Grand Junction” into Google Earth and plunged toward western Colorado like a meteor. Once in town I skated east with a flick of my mouse to state highway 65, then south to get a birds-eye view of a new conservation easement I was writing about in my job as an editor of Bugle magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. Pure magic, and that wasn’t the half of it.
A tiny dot appeared near the easement linking to a geo-tagged photo on Panoramio, a Google-owned photo-sharing site. I clicked on it to see a gorgeous lightning-strike photo right over the very spot I aimed to write about. All because the photographer had tacked on latitude and longitude for his shot as he posted it to Panoramio to share it with the free world.
Sometimes the free world has a pocketbook
A moment later I was sending him a message to see if we might purchase the image to fill a full spread in our magazine to accompany my short write-up.
Talk about easy for us both. These days there is a real opportunity for photographers and videographers to troll their finest work by harnessing the popularity of sharing sites like Flickr, Picasa, Pbase, Youtube, Vimeo and a myriad of others. Most are free, and most offer powerful search engines.
It wasn’t the first time we’d made such a purchase. When our bimonthly photo requests for little-known locales come up short, we’ve mostly quit turning to the stock agencies for lack of success.
We search Flickr and Pbase, and sometimes Google Images. We rarely have to search further. The thought may terrify those who fear posting to these sites will result in stolen photos. But a well-watermarked photograph will do more for you out where buyers can find it than hidden from the world on your hard drive.
Limiting the size of your images to 1,000 pixels or so wide and creating a substantial watermark will do much to keep your photos from being illegally appropriated. Just don’t watermark it to death. You have no idea how many photos editors pass over because they can’t stomach the frame-width watermark.
Every hook needs a barb
When it comes to search engines, an image is only as good as the information you describe it with. Take the time to properly label your photos. The work you do on the front end will pay dividends once a search engine catalogs it.
Be forewarned, though: a person can go loony trying to think of every possible keyword for any given image. Believe me, I’ve been there. Here are a few hints to make it easier:
- Channel your quarry’s query: Start putting yourself in the shoes of your buyer. Who would purchase your image and why, using what search terms? Brainstorm a few keywords that best summarize your image, but give yourself a time limit, for the next step might just make it unnecessary. Then think of a catchy title but provide solid info in your caption.
- Borrow the billionare’s powertools: Google has made a killing with its keyword-based advertising—$21 billion in 2008 alone—so it’s invested wisely in creating a killer tool to generate keywords. Dubbed the Adwords Keyword Tool, its intuition can be uncanny. Luckily it’s not limited to advertisers, so co-opt it for your own needs: https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal.
- Get with the program: Once you’ve got your keywords, you can plug them in as you upload photos or video to various websites. Better yet, though, is to employ the power of modern photo suites to insert your titles, captions, keywords and copyright info as metadata that will travel with your image wherever it goes. This often relieves you from having to retype or re-paste it every time you upload it somewhere, and it’s just good etiquette in this day and age. Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture truly streamline this with easily customized keyword-sets and options to insert keywords as you import images off your camera. Many applications also allow you to automatically inject elegant watermarks to help protect your work from would-be cyber-thieves. Both also have direct upload tools available for Flickr, Picasa and other many other sites.
Ever the optimist?
It’s easy to feel your images will get lost among the endless chaff of photos and videos, but stay positive that the quality of your photos will carry them. You have to choose wisely about what images to take the time to prepare, though, and as always, only include outstanding shots.
But also keep an eye toward the multitudes of forgotten markets out there. Case in point: at Bugle we get an endless supply of stunning images of elk sent to us. We buy a fraction of them. But shots of elk crossing busy highways or standing among new housing developments are actually very hard to find.
People don’t realize the potential of the everyday things. If anyone can send us decent video of a wild elk walking in front of a bulldozer, I can almost guarantee we’ll buy it if the price is reasonable. Most folks would turn off their camera at that moment, but such imagery perfectly illustrates the Elk Foundation’s mission. I remember book publisher Bill Schneider telling me that he once couldn’t find a good photo of a red-breasted robin from stock websites to save his life. Look carefully at the topics magazines are covering and practice being perceptive about the sorts of images they might need. And if you see a crystal ball for sale, buy it.
Blogs are no exception
A couple years ago I was searching for a shot of Rifle Falls, a scenic waterfall in Colorado, for our “Name That Elk Country” department. After we’d searched the major stock agencies, I resorted to searching Google. I found a photographer’s Blogger page who had visited the falls on vacation and written up a short travelogue complete with her fine photos.
A day later she wrote a new post about selling her image to a magazine she’d never heard of before.
Take the time to optimize for search engines, whether it’s a photo, video or a Web page. If there is a spot to enter keywords, don’t ignore it. It may be your best route to let your work find its own way to new markets. ◊
Paul Queneau is conservation editor of Bugle magazine at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, where he also works on video, television and Web productions. Contact him at pqueneau@RMEF.org.