All posts by Laurie

Beta Testing Begins

Just in time for the new year Frozen Event has just switched from alpha testing to beta testing. This is a really big thing for me, as I have spent the last few months working hard trying to get everything in place, and so I’m kinda excited. I have been pretty quiet for the last few months, but a lot has been happening, most of it pretty boring! I have been getting the company set up (in a legal sense, registering with companies house, getting the accounting in place, registering with the tax man and so on), running more alpha tests on what works and what doesn’t, and getting some legal stuff in place, meaning I now have terms and conditions, and a privacy policy up on the website. All very boring (both for you and especially for me). That is why I’m so excited by the stuff that’s coming up soon, because it’s way more interesting.

I just deployed the latest update to the website, which officially marks the transition from the Alpha version of Frozen Event to the Beta. I have to say the Alpha was a resounding success. Firstly, and most importantly it flushed out a few bugs, that have now been fixed. Secondly it was a resounding success in terms of proving the business model. In fact I have made an operational profit each and every month since I registered the company! For a long time I have been telling my friends that a good idea should be able to be profitable very quickly, so the fact that I can now stand by my words is making me smile from ear to ear! To be honest, I haven’t exactly made much profit (and then all of it and more got invested in building some more infrastructure) but still its left me with a stupid grin on my face. The best bit by far was having Christmas drinks with the London based photographers who were taking part of the alpha tests, and being able to hand them over quite nice chunky cheques. That was very awesome! I have more cheques to write out to them just as soon as the month ends as well.

So now I can start to look forward to the Beta Test. There is room for a load more photographers, and I am going to be slowly rolling out a load of new features on the website. I’m not going to tell you about the new features just yet – but I sure you will find them as cool as I do. So head on over to the beta test page, and help me get started.

Processing for event photos

Before posting the photos for an event, I always spend an hour or so, tidying up the photos. A well presented photo is far more likely to sell, so  its worth the time, especially given how easy it is, once you get good at it. In the video below, the first of a series, I show you a few of the corrections I typically make to each photo.

Photographers photographers everywhere

The barrier to entry for photography used to be pretty big. You had to invest in a camera and lenses and a darkroom. Film was costly, developing was too. Becoming a professional photographer, earning money from making and selling photographs was reserved for the people who could do it well enough to pay the cost of doing business. You may have noticed that that’s just not true anymore.

Buying a digital SLR and a photo printer enables just about anyone to set themselves up as a professional photographer. If you need photos taken for a wedding, family memory, or just for vanity, there are many more people you can go to than ever before. Professional photographers think this is a bad thing, it’s getting harder for them to make a living – they keep getting undercut by the army of keen amateurs, looking to make a cheap buck on the side. Here is the kick though – whether you think this is a bad thing, or a good thing is irrelevant. It’s a fact.

What does this mean for the consumer? Some will pay the big price for a “real” professional. Most will decide to spend time rather than money, looking though the vast number of amateurs till they find one with enough skill and consistency to do what they want. The thing is, there will be lots and lots of lots and lots of average photographers – taking average photos. The keen amateurs don’t do it for a day job, so don’t have to improve to make their living. They can just keep on churning out these average photos. The law of large numbers says that some of these photos will be great. The problem is going to be how to find the good ones. The photographers will claim that each and every photo they take is great. Can they be trusted, how can the ones with good photos get the message out?

I think that there is an opportunity here. By connecting the good photos, with the people willing to buy the good photos, a market place can be built. One where the consumer is looking to buy decent photos at a cheap price and the photographer, looking to sell some photos, but not dependent on the income can both benefit.

 

Photo viewing stats – What do photographers need to know?

So I’m sitting here, with the source code for Frozen Event in front of me. I have managed to set aside some time to do some programming for the first time in a while. I’m working on creating a better interface for you photographers. The current one sucks pretty badly. The only way to upload photos is to ship them to me, typically on a USB key, and they only way to know if you have sold any photos is to ping me on MSN or Facebook and ask me.

The first couple of things are pretty obvious. You want to upload your photos yourself, you want to know if you have sold any photos, which photos, and how much money you are going to be getting. Fine I can do that. I think there is more that is useful to know though…

As a photographer, I want to know something about my collection of photos that will help me. I want to know what photos are getting looked at most, how often, and other similar things like that. There is an issue though. There is a lot of data I can dig out of my database (whenever someone looks at a photo or an event I am tracking when they looked at it – and where they came from). I can work out trends, what photos are popular now compared to last week, last month, even last year (once I have that much data). Some of this data I can get easily, and some of it takes a bit more work. Work for me in creating the code, and then work for the server every time it has to compute it. Some of this data is actually useful, and some of it is fun to look at, but ultimately not very useful.

So the question that is going to be in my mind for the next few days is going to be what data is useful. What do photographers find useful. What data can tell them what they are doing right, and what is not working for them. If you have any thoughts please let me know

Allow customers to buy your photos

So you want to sell your photos, make some money, put it towards your next camera, but its not happening. You work hard on “Selling” trying to get people to buy them. Well I’m not going to tell you any techniques for selling your photos. You see, I think of “selling” photos differently to a lot of other people. To me, trying to persuade people to buy your photos is the wrong way of thinking about it. I think selling is about allowing people to buy your work.

Persuading someone to buy something they don’t want is hard work, often unsuccessful, and emotionally draining. Helping someone buy something they do want is much easier, more fun too! That is why when I head off to an event I start out by thinking what sort of photos I’m going to take, why I am going to take them and that leads onto who would want to buy those photos. If I do a good job of letting these people know about my photos, then I have a collection of photos, and a set of customers who want them. From here the act of selling is just a matter of helping the customers get their photos. It becomes a matter of working out why customers don’t buy you work when they want to, and solving those problems. I can’t give you a universal list to help you out, but I can cover some of the more common reasons customers end up not clicking on the “buy” button.

Price

The first stumbling point is price. If your photos are priced wrong, they won’t sell. Simple!

Digital photography has changed the way pricing works, and many photographers haven’t accepted this. Before digital, a good photograph, the sort someone was likely to buy, was an artefact, a physical thing. Someone had taken the photo, and slaved over it in the darkroom making the print. Each print was unique, and would be proudly displayed. Now photos are on Facebook, they are on your iPhone. Unless you are intending your photos to be one of the very few works of art that a customer buys, you can’t charge like you are.

Setting the price of photos right is really tough, but I’m going to go out on a limb, and make myself unpopular with you guys, and say lower your price. Digital photography has brought down the costs of processing a photo, and if you deliver it digitally (see below) it also cuts down the cost of delivering it to the customer. For a simple event photo, that a customer is going to download and view on their computer, I don’t think you can go wrong charging a couple of bucks.

Convenience of showing photos

Have you seen those booths at theme-parks? The ones where as you start the fast drop, *snap*, a photograph is taken. The same photograph that is printed out, and put on display at the exit to the ride, for you to buy as a souvenir. I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity every time I see one of these stands. I remember the one time I brought a photo, and I remember the photo getting put in a pile of paper, and never looked at again!

When was the last time you sat down with to fill a photo album? I don’t remember the last time I got back from an event, brought a physical album, and filled it with photos.

If you want to sell photos, you have to understand how the buyer wants to use them. Then you can make that easier for them. If they want the photos to go on a website, they should receive digital photos. If they want to put them in a digital photo frame, they should receive digital photos. If they want a print as the end product, well then I think they should receive digital photos, and then they can have them printed and cropped exactly as they want.

Also, bear in mind that the most common ways of showing photos today seems to be loading them onto an iPhone, and passing it round over a cup of coffee. If its easy for your photos to get put onto an iPhone, they will sell more.

Unclear ownership (licence)

When shooting events, I find it’s not uncommon to have journalists (or dance performers in my case) want to buy commercial licence for photos. What they are looking for is photos they can put on their flyers, or their website. They won’t buy a photo if its not clear they can use it commercially (or for that matter if they can see that the price for a commercial licence is mega-expensive compared to the non-commercial licence)

Make it clear what licences you are selling, and make it possible to buy a commercial licence. Even if its just by emailing you to negotiate the rights. The clearer you can be about what they are buying, the more likely they are to read

Complicated delivery

This is a smaller point, but a personal bugbear of mine, so I’m going to tell you about it. Make sure it’s clear that delivering the photos will be smooth, painless, and easy. If you are selling digital photos (which you are, right?) tell the customer, as they are browsing, that their photos will be zipped up and emailed to them right away!

Like I said above, don’t think this list is going to be universal, or definitive in any way. The blocks you have to clear are going to be different for each and every type of event. So its up to you to work out what they are, and how to get them solved.

What other problems have you found prevent people from buying your photos. Let me know in the comments below.

No one will buy photos they don’t know exist

A megaphone shouting out twitter messages
Photo by The Daring Librarian

There is one fundamental truth when trying to sell photos. No-one can ever buy your photos if they don’t know they exist. Wow, great insight there huh ;-). It sounds simple, maybe even silly to write something quite so obvious, but at the same time, it is one of the hardest problems we face when trying to see the photos we take at an event. How do we make sure that those people who may be interested in buying photos, know that they are for sale.

I like to think in terms of there being 6 different ways of spreading the word:

Stall at event

The most traditional way is to have a stall at the event. Buying space from an event organiser is normally easy, though sometimes expensive. You then set up a table, showing some albums you have from previous event as samples of what you are likely to produce. You should also set up a computer to show photos you take on the day. You can use a software program like EVS for this

However with stalls you have to deal with several drawbacks. Firstly you need to be sure of covering the costs, after that you have to keep updating the selection of photos on display with todays photos, and there is rarely time to make a good selection. If you want to sell photos at the stall you have to have a photo quality printer on hand, along with all the logistic problems of fresh ink, paper supply and so on, while if you plan to take orders, and post the photos later you need to make sure you can keep track of all the orders. Personally I find stalls to be a lot of trouble

Flyers

With the increase of online photo sales, it is becoming more popular to set up a website before you go to the event, with a nice short URL (address) and print of a bunch of flyers to hand out at the event. PhotoStockPlus does a good job of this. After you get home from the event you go though your shots, select the best ones, and upload them to the website. Over the next few days you hope that people will go to the address on the flyers you gave out, and see your photos, and buy them online.

This approach works very well apart from one major drawback. The conversion rate (number of people who actually visit your website) is typically pitiful. :-(

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth can be one of the most effective ways of getting word of your photos into the minds of your customers. You show the photos to a few people at the event, and they then tell everyone else how great your photos are (they do need to be great photos though). It requires a strong social connection among the participants, which isn’t always there. Ideally you would combine this with a website similar the one when handing out flyers. This is what I used when I was selling photos of student dance competition, and I never lacked for customers.

Email Lists

If you can make friends with the event organiser, you can ask them nicely to include a link to your website in their email newsletter.They might ask you to pay to advertise in their list (after all, this is pure advertising at this point), in which case you can either take a risk, pay their fee and try and work out later if you made enough profit to cover the costs, or you can ask them for some numbers. They maybe be able to tell you how many people regularly open/read their newsletter (mailing list sites like Mailchimp record this information), giving you some idea how many hits you can expect to on your site. This gives you a chance to make an educated guess as to whether or not its a good financial decision.

Twitter

More and more events have a twitter hashtag. It serves as a way to broadcast small snippets about an event to anyone interested enough to look up the hashtag on twitter, which is great for two reasons, one it only sends the message to those people interested in the event, and two these are exactly the people most likely to want to buy some photos. Just like with flyers, word of mouth and email lists, you need to have a website setup that can sell your photos.

Facebook

Facebook, and its idea of tagging people in photos can work wonders for telling people your pictures exist. It is very similar to word of mouth, as it requires the people from the event to do some of the work. You upload some of your photos to Facebook (with a suitable watermark of course), and tag some of the more well known participants. If this works right something almost magical starts to happen. Each person who sees the photos, tags everyone they know. These people then get notified, look at the photos and add tags for more people. Before long every photo is tagged, and everyone has a list of notifications telling them exactly what photos they are in. As long the watermark on the photo shows where they can go to get copies of the photos, this can be an amazing way to drive visits to your site.

So there you have it, 6 different ways to make sure that your photos are known about. Hopefully this will get you one step closer to being able to sell your photos. Do you have any other ways of spreading the word about your photos? If so, let me know in the comments below…

Why photograph an event?

What are you trying to achieve when you pick up your camera, and head off to photo an event? One answer I commonly hear is “to get some photos I can sell.”, which I think is the worst possible answer. Firstly it gives you no insight onto when to press the shutter, and secondly, in my experience, it results in less sellable photos on your memory card at the end of the day.

If you can banish the selling question from your mind, and then ask “why I am taking these photos?” you may be surprised at the results. I know I was.

Formula 1 cars leaving the starting line
Photo by Oh-Barcelona.com

After some trial and error, I have come to realise that I take photos at events for 4 reasons. Sometimes I combine the reasons, but I have had more luck with picking one for the day, and sticking to it.

So my 4 reasons to taking photos at an event are:

Documentary

Documentary photos are intended to provide an accurate record of what happened during the event. Who did what, when, and how did it look. They should include all the important moments, and clearly show what really happened. If I was going to take documentary photos at a car racing event, I would have in a mind of what photos I want to get: The line up just before the start, the start itself, the first corner (where lots of overtaking happens), the pit stops, the exit from the pit stops (which can change the race order), any crashes, collisions, or cars going ride in the gravel, the winner crossing the finish line, and the winners on the podium.

These photos are enough to show all the important individual events that happened on the day. Perfect for selling to a newspaper or website that is covering the event as a news story.

Memories

Memory photos are much more personal, they record a special event in the life of a person, a family or a team. Here I am more worried about if the photos will bring back memories of the day, rather than making them factually accurate. For the car racing event I would choose one of the drivers, maybe it is his first big race. My photo list for this shoot would be totally different from the one I would use if I was taking documentary photos. I would want some photos of the driver before the race, showing the apprehension on his face. Portraits of his friends and family there to support him. A group shot of the team coach giving the drivers last minute advice before the race. A sequence of shots of him getting in to his racing suit, and getting into the car, the line up, showing where he is in the starting order. Several portrait style shots of him during the race (from whatever vantage points are available). The driver crossing the finishing line. His reaction post race.

A shoot following this line of thinking would result in a set a photos that would be invaluable to this particular driver, his family, and friends. Books or albums of photos like these seem to earn a big place in someones heart.

Analysis

When someone is competing, or performing in an event they have spent a long time training and preparing for, the become obsessed with how well they perform on the day. This is the opportunity for another type of photography. Analysis photography is concerned with recoding exactly what happened at a very low level. The participants in the event will want to gather the photos, and work out what they need to change before their next event. While doing this sort of event I would once more have a different shot list. A shot a few seconds after the cars have started. Showing the car and the other cars nearest – to show good or bad the start was compared to others. During a difficult corner, several shots showing what part of the road the car is in, allowing the driver to compare the line the took with the line they wanted to take. A sequence of shots in the run up to an overtake, as well as during and after overtaking – the driver and his team can use these later to work out what if there are any opportunities for technique improvement.

These photos are great for anyone who is trying to improve, and wants more information to drive the direction of their training.

Art

Probably the hardest of the 4 different styles. Art photography is about trying to capture photos that have their own aesthetic value. Great lighting, nice composition, a decisive moment, good colours and so on. For this style, its worth having an idea of what are the iconic images associated with this sort of event. With car racing, looking down the straight at all the cars on the start line, the start lights just about to show the beginning of the race. The first few seconds of the race, with the dust and exhaust fumes showing behind the pack of cars, Two drivers, one battling to overtake the other while turning round a tight curve, the sun shining across the photo with a beautiful golden hue.

These photos also have the widest audience you can sell to. Anyone who loves the sport will want to buy these photos. Sponsors will love them for their websites, and glossy magazines. However the standard of photos needed to succeed in art photos is very high, so be prepared to have to spend a lot of time working on your skills first.

As long as you have a clear idea of why you are taking the photos, I’m sure you will produce a coherent set of photos. A collection that work well as a group, and that will have people telling you how they wish they could get photos as good as yours.

What reasons do you have for taking photos when you get to an event? Tell me about them in the comments below.

Starting out photographing events

When I was at university I was running the photography society, and there was something I was lusting after, I wanted a digital camera. A shiny digital SLR. There was just one problem, money! They were the newest, latest thing and were expensive. Canon’s D30, was the only option (this was back in 2000 or thereabouts), and was retailing for about £3,500 in the UK at the time. Way way beyond the means of a poor student. But there are always options :-)

My lab partner from a previous year had got himself the job of editor of the student newspaper, and was being very successful. He was simplifying a lot of the slower, time consuming ways the newspaper was put together (mostly that meant getting more volunteers in so he had to write less), but one thing that was still really slowing them down was putting photos in the news paper – taking the photos, getting them developed in a 24 hour lab, choosing the right photos, scanning them etc. He also had one other issue, as a result of being so successful they had quite a large surplus of cash and limited options on what they could spend it on, as there were strict rules imposed by the university.

It really did make a lot of sense for them to switch to doing their photography digitally, so it wasn’t at all difficult to persuade him to invest some of their cash into a new shiny D30. We agreed that the photography society would help out getting good photos for the newspaper (including a brief series of semi-naked portraits - but that is another story). In return, trusted members of the photography society would have the option of borrowing the camera from time to time.

At the same time that this was happening. I also met the captain of the university dance team, he was a keen photographer and had been taking photos (on film) at dance competitions. A thankless task as so few photos come out as keepers. He talked me into coming and taking photos of his team. So I grabbed the new D30, and hopped on a coach (leaving a 4am) to get to the dance competition, and start taking photos.

I shot over 600 photos that day (that would have cost £200 in film and processing costs had I been using film), and threw away almost all of them. I think I found 5 or 6 I liked!

The next day I got an email from the team captain. Could the people on the team get hold of the photos, it didn’t matter how good they photos were! They wanted to use them as training aids, to look at their technique etc. So I went back to the full set of 600, and cut it down to the 150 or so I was willing (begrudgingly) to let other people see.

There were no websites for sharing photos back then. Flickr didn’t exist, Facebook hadn’t even launched. So I went out and brought 60 blank CDs, and sat at my computer, for hours burning a copy of the photos onto each CD. I then asked people to pay me £1 for a CD, to cover the cost of the blank CD. One or two people refused to give me just £1, instead giving me £3 or so. I started to realise that there might be a way to make a bit of spending money doing this.

Over the next few years, I raised my prices to £3 per CD, and repeated this many many times (I built an archive of 10s of thousands of dance photos). Slowly I put all the profits I made into a fund and watched it grow, slowly, as my time at university passed.

As the time went on, new cameras came out, and the prices started to drop. It took me 3 years, but at the end of it – I had enough money in my fund to afford the newest, latest SLR :-)

So that’s the story of how I got started in event photography. I began to understand that there is a demand for these photos. When someone puts a huge amount of time, and energy and effort into training for something (as the student dancers were), they want photos. They want them for training, they want them for memories.

How did you get started taking photos of events? Or are you just looking to get started? Tell me your story in the comments below…

Welcome to Frozen Event

Welcome!

Event photography sucks. Well, not totally, but it could be a lot better. I got fed up of never having great photos of myself when I go to events. I also got fed up of taking great photos at events, that most people never get to see.

So I got to thinking, there has to be a better way. I have several ideas for better ways to do event photography, and I think you will agree with a lot of them. So stick with me, while I build my blog, and the rest of Frozen Event, its going to be quite a ride