This story that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle a couple months ago got me thinking about the fate of garden photographers in the digital age. Used to be that a photographer could spend a lifetime shooting plants and gardens, keep them filed and organized and cataloged according to color, (correct) plant name, location, and any number of other categories, and hope that an editor would call and want to see some slides. Off the slides would go, and maybe later a check would arrive. Over time, that catalog of images would only get more valuable. It's a retirement plan, right?
Well, it didn't work out that way. Nowadays, as that Chron story points out, editors are all too happy to jump on Flickr and find a workable image for a fraction of the price. Amateurs are happy to pocket a few bucks, and do the readers know the difference? I wold argue that they do–we all know the difference between gorgeous, perfect plant porn and that awful low-res garden photograph shot in garish sunlight with no plant names in the caption–but that's not what I'm thinking about today.
If I was a photographer with an extraordinary catalog of gorgeous images, I'd be taking a serious look at Zazzle right about now. In less than a minute you can upload an image to a notecard design and add your text to the back. It doesn't take much longer to build a calendar. You get fifty cents or a dollar or two dollars whenever something sells. It doesn't sound like much, but that's about what we get in book royalties. And who wouldn't want to have cards, calendars, or even mousepads, mugs, or a cute little coffee table book, with art by a photographer like Saxon Holt or Rob Cardillo or David Perry?
(Not to pick on those three, but hey, they're amazing. They have a fan base.)
And if I was an author with a book full of photographs I'd taken myself (think Debra Lee Baldwin or Scott Calhoun) I'd be thinking about a set of notecards or a calendar based on the book. Take a few samples to garden clubs so they can see what they look like, and send them home with a little slip of paper that explains how to order them online. No inventory, no boxes to haul, and a little free advertising for your books moves through the garden community. I buy twelve cards and send them out to friends–that's twelve more people finding out about the book.
In some cases, photographers don't have the rights to the images. Let's hope that changes. Given the state of publishing, we should all be able to retain as many rights as possible and try to make a buck.
It's also true that making money at something like Zazzle takes time and effort, but the more successful photographers out there already have a website, a blog, an email newsletter, and so forth. Why not add this to the mix?
Is anybody out there doing this? If so, post a comment with a link and let me know if I have permission to show one of your images here at GardenRant in a future post (just in time for the holidays!)Posted by Amy Stewart on November 5, 2009 at 12:43 pm, in the category But is it Art?.