The creative economy is currently experiencing a boom that we will not see an end to any time soon. As the world goes more and more digital the demand for content and especially quality content is increasing. Just a decade ago professional photography was needed by only the biggest brands and celebrities. Nowadays the smallest of businesses and individuals need professional photography for their social media and websites. Granted it’s become a lot easier to access. One business idea that could do well in Zimbabwe that is based on photography is stock photography.
Stock photography is not a digital age thing. It dates back to the 1920s making it just about 100 years old. It is not always convenient or feasible to wait to be commissioned for photographs and images. Stock photography takes care of that by having images on hand for people to buy and/or license. The whole idea is to provide high-quality images of things of interest that you then sell and license to people who need them. It’s incredibly wide as you can make anything from cents on a single image to thousands.
Let’s look a little deeper into the money side of things. First, let’s look at how images are used. Now in the introduction, I focused on images for digital media purposes but there are also matters like printing of magazines, books and merchandise. A single image can have several licensing or purchase tiers. You can also base your pricing on exclusivity or degree and extent of use. If somebody wants to exclusively use the image they should rightly pay more. Whereas if somebody intends to use the image for a limited run of prints, say 1000 cards, you can negotiate a lower fee.
What to take photos of
The whole idea of stock photography is figuring out what people need and making it available. I thought this would make a good business idea for Zimbabweans because there is a dire lack of documentation of our country. While you will see plenty of Harare and Bulawayo skylines there is a whole country out there that is barely captured. People also make great subjects for stock photography. One of the biggest challenges for creatives is finding images with people of colour in positive settings. Undeserved markets always make good places to position yourself in a business. For is another brilliant subject for stock photography. Zimbabwe has a whole world of food that is poorly documented and yet could make great stock photography subject matter. And while we are talking about the food we can also talk about the rich flora and fauna the nation is blessed with.
Images are usually sold through an agency. Selling them yourself is omitting you could try but the reality is you’re a photographer and the agency is a marketer and distributor. You should do what you’re good at and let them focus on what they are good at. The advantage of agencies is that they act as aggregators bringing together interested parties in one place. It may also be a disadvantage if you are competing in a saturated category. There are exclusive agencies that take the highest quality photographs and sell them but with the Internet amongst us, there are also websites that facilitate the same processes.
You are entering a market that may be both competitive and demanding. You cannot leave the quality of your pictures to chance and what you need to be mindful of is investing in lenses that bring out the best in your images. That’s right, you’re looking at using a professional DSLR camera for this. Education will also prove important to make you a better photographer. Remember the trouble with stock photography is unlike commissions and photo shoots you neither know your client nor have the advantage of their input at the time of taking the image. You will need to really understand what qualities customers look for in images to create good stock images.
Have a look at websites for Getty Images, Shutterstock and iStockphoto to get an idea of what the market looks like out there. Perhaps you can also get direction on some image subjects you could find that are currently underserved.