Who Buys?

MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Week 8


Figure 1

This is a summary of the study focused on the market.  This overview will see useful to reflect on my understanding of the market and, in terms of my practice, will be a point of recall when I achieve future commissions.

I have worked in previous roles with ‘integrated’ agencies, those who design web sites, deliver events and create marketing strategies, all requiring imagery, often lens based.  These have been smaller agencies that are often led by multi-functioning people who do not have the title ‘creative director’ or ‘art buyer’ it is thus important that I learn to look out for those people in future and network with them to engage with the possibility of purchase or commissioning of my work.  Presently my practice requires simple operations at a location after considerable investment of time and planning in gaining access to buildings that are empty; the idea of a ‘production’ requiring assistants, client teams and lighting rigs would best be addressed by my negotiating an observing or assisting role, to feel my way into that level of working.

By way of example, the Oliver group provides in-house agency functions which, according to its recent report commissioned with The Incorporated Society of British Advertisers and Future Thinking, 33% of brands have in-house agencies and this agencies create 12% of their visual content in-house.

In terms of gauging the imagery market in the advertising world, Pfab, in the learning material, quotes Pritchard who suggests reading trade and press blogs, paying attention to winning entires to commercial photographic completions, communication agency web sites, photographers own websites and the Association of Photographers (AoP).

Editorial commissioning from magazines and newspapers will commission photographers for specific articles.  In my experience from talking to people in the press and media, this is rare and usually focuses on planned articles; conversely almost any imagery that is used in news articles are from the reporter’s smart phones and cameras or just as often video and image footage taken from social media sources.

Figures 2, 3

Of the 8,000 magazines published in the UK there are three categories; consumer, trade and special interest.  Almost invariably these titles duplicate print with on-line presence Figure 2, 3 shows the two versions to the Architect’s Journal, a weekly trade magazine on-line and paper version respectively.

Pfab emphases the need to create a practice portfolio showing a mix of editorial, commercial and personal work.

Numerous business will commission or buy photography directly, thus bypassing an agency. These include architects and property developers and this begging to feel specific to my practice positioning.  I will be planning a zine in the new year (2018) and if that is successful that will be my means to promote the practice and business into the year.  Pfab notes that magazines will commission, sources from photo libraries and occasionally accept submissions.

Pritchard, in quoting Trow from Vogue, expects photographers to “interpret a brief beautifully” that “fits our style” evoking a particular and ambitious expectation.

Other sources of work include on-line catalogues which are an absolutely essential part of what Andy Street the ex-managing director of the John Lewis Partnership (JLP) called “bricks and clicks”, the latter referring to the 33% of sales achieved on-line.  Without enticing and accurate imagery on-line, in the style of JLP this number would dwindle.

The list is completed with PR companies, music publishers, book publishers and the public at large.  The latter has, to date, been my source for sales – see figure 1, private client who received a print on 16th November 2017, photo; Philip Singleton.



Pritchard, L, 2001, Setting Up A Successful Photography Business, Bloomsbury, p. 18

https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/ accessed 17.11.2017

http://internetretailing.net/2016/03/john-lewis-sees-fast-growth-online-and-via-mobile-but-waitrose-ecommerce-sales-are-down/accessed 17.11.2017



MA in Photography, Falmouth University, Module 4, Sustainable Prospects.  Week 7

Getting ‘out there’ is a desire that rests within most photographers.  The drive to share, to seek praise, recognition and appreciation seems innate.  Seeking a return is perhaps a tougher call.  Defining opportunities requires an understanding of the structure of the ‘routes’ and ‘gatekeepers’ to the market; the market that pays fees.

The market appears to be divided into two, those who commission and those who buy.  The financial structure of the photographers practice will be defined by the choice to shoot to order or shoot to sell.  The latter will take a greater degree of cash-flow before a return is banked.

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.24.42Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 14.23.25

figures 1, 2

The commission will be driven by a brief, and expectation and a timescale.  In a world of compressed cash, people and time, the demands on making a decent body of work are high and require a technique to suit that arena.  Some photographers talk of this being their extrovert work where they command a presence and fast results and choose as a counterpoint to dwell on their own creative output produced at a pace that suits them. The Dutch photographer Vivianne Sassen expresses her work in just this way, her ‘art’ work is described, in a 2015 interview (itsnicethat.com) as more a ‘solitary process’ and at the heart of it is her passion “I enjoy it so much that I want to do it as much as possible”.  Sassen’s visual language pervades her commercial work through into her art work and vice versa, see figures 1, 2. 

The ‘brand’ is applied now to individuals, according to Smales (entrepreneur.com) “Your personal brand is how you appear to the world. Therefore, it serves to reason that a strong brand is preferable to one that is unpolished and uninteresting”. Branding underwrites entitles however small or large; the ‘presence’ on line is seen now as being present with premises; the global visibility is not driven my the local place but the global view.  However smart the words, the image casts an immediate impression. According to Bradford, in his 2011 paper,  Visual learners – 65% of the population – need to see what they are learning, and while they have difficulty following oral lectures they perform well at written assignments and readily recall material they have read”.  We can regard any absorption of information as learning, thus a lack of imagery risks losing almost two thirds of an audience.  In a world where imagery is consumed at a most eye-blindingly incredible rate, keeping imagery fresh is important as is the ‘personality’ of a brand. The Management Study Guide neatly summarises this notion “Brand image is the customer’s net extract from the brand”.

There is thus an opportunity for photographers to feed the refresh that is demanded of brand owners as they fixate on the discerning and fickle audience. Pfab, in week 7 (sustainable prospects), notes that “photographers need to ensure that can meet the creative demands that are made of them” in this realm, that is the speed of refresh but also the brand’s particular set of identifying visual ‘hooks’.

Speed, lateral thinking, creative solutions and overall efficiency appear to apply to editorial shooting as well, where commissioners will be leaving little room for error or indeed time to shoot.  Pfab, in quoting Scott, talks of being a ‘problem solver, creating choices, empathiser, appropriateness, speed and accuracy’ as overriding characteristics of photographers that wish to tackle this world.

For those photographers that have time to perhaps draw breath and shoot for stock libraries this remains an option.  Stock libraries appear high up in search engine results for a plethora of possible client requirements from the generic to the very specific.  The reach is far and their investment is in optimising this for the lazy finger of image buyers who are building last minute reports and presentations or indeed brand proposals.  Images are bought for a fraction of the budget of commissioning a photographer and indeed the choice is de-risked entirely, few will criticise a writer who selects a dazzling image in minutes to embellish a report.  Alamy, an agency I have purchased images from during one of my professional roles, suggests it has 60,000 contributors and 110,000 buyers and on its students’ page it advises “Unlike other agencies we don’t edit on content; our Quality Control (QC) checks are just on technical criteria”.  Stock photographs agencies as a norm offer rights-managed and royalty-free images. Rights managed images will be priced depending on the anticipated and allowed usage.  Royalty free images are sold depending on the file resolution.  I note that most websites, reports and presentations actually only require quite low resolution files.  As a provider to a stock agency one no control over image use and it is thus important to decide if it suits the practice one is developing.  The British Association of Picture Libraries & Agencies (BAPLA) is a a membership organisation which upholds standards (although at a swift glance it does not speak much about buying customers or contributors), it does advise “BAPLA is a member of the Alliance for IPThe British Copyright CouncilThe Creative Industries Federation and The Creator’s Rights Alliance.  We are a founding member of CEPIC (Coordination of European Picture Agencies Stock, Press and Heritage) and maintain close ties with the DMLA (Digital Media Licensing Association)”.



Figure 1 http://arcstreet10.rssing.com/chan-26108025/all_p2.htmlaccessed 12.11.2017

Figure 2 http://www.vivianesassen.comaccessed 12.11.2017

Source References

Sassen Interview https://www.itsnicethat.com/features/magical-thinking-an-interview-with-viviane-sassen-on-the-occasion-of-her-show-pikin-slee accessed 12.11.2017

Smales https://www.entrepreneur.com/slideshow/299671 accessed 12.11.2017

Bradford https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=587201accessed 12.11.2017

Management Study Guide https://www.managementstudyguide.com/brand-image.htmaccessed 12.11.2017

Alamy http://www.alamy.com/about-alamy/our-buyers.aspxaccessed 12.11.2017

BAPLA https://bapla.org.uk/en/pages/what-we-do.htmlaccessed 12.11.2017