Business Trends
The Marketing Side Of Digital

One of the pioneers in the business of digital technology is J.W. Burkey. He operates an eight-person studio out of Dallas, Texas, and now works with his wife, Cathy, who has worked as an art buyer and a stock photo editor. J.W. is an award-winning photographer and also teaches his unique style of combining photography with computer graphics.

From their point of view, shooting film, scanning and manipulating photography gives you two clients for your work. One is the client who buys illustrations. The second is the client you may already have but needs both digital services and the photography.

For the first, you are now an illustrator and selling the creation of a unique, new expression--your personal style. Because style is not subject specific, you need to market your work very widely. Like any illustrator, advertising in a source book is probably the best marketing tool because it can expose a broad market of tens of thousands of clients to your style.

Where do you get fresh ideas to develop your personal style of digital photo illustrations? J.W. says, "We live in such a visually saturated society that the images are everywhere. We get ideas from music videos, movies, magazines, everywhere. Visual ideas are everywhere. We have 50 or so ideas in our sketchbooks for each one we've been able to finish. Of course, I'm not talking about copying other shots. That's pointless. But you might see something as simple as a new way someone has put colors together in a store display or in a play and that will launch you straight into a shot you'd like to do. Cathy's experience as a stock editor also gives her great insight into what will sell. From a business standpoint, that's critical."

If digital technology gives you the opportunity to make illustrations out of photos, who are the best clients for this work? J.W. offers this, "Since designers are `early adopters' they first accepted my work. Now it's considered safe for ad agencies, so I'm doing a lot of work for them now, too. But the biggest change for us is stock. Since Cathy is a former core editor (senior editor) at the Image Bank, we've got an inside line on what sells as stock. I love editorial but I seldom get to do it due to the low rates. I have found that there are a few magazines that actually pay a decent amount, say $1500, for an original photo illustration. That's practical provided that it's something we can sell as stock later. Oddly, these are usually less known magazines. The rich magazines are the ones who want to take advantage of photographers and illustrators."

The second kind of client hires you to create an image that still resembles a photograph, but you create the final photo using digital technology. This work is usually subject specific (e.g., the photography of food or products) so you can market these images very precisely. The best marketing tools are direct mail campaigns and sales calls. Since your studio will do the image enhancement and assembly, this creates more services to sell to existing and new clients.

You can also expand your digital billings and business by working on supplied photos. J.W. offers this caution, "Working on someone else's images is no problem, the problem is working on pre-existing images. It's important to have some input before the image is shot. Basically, the best images seem to always start out with a strong idea. We build and improve as we go, but we start with an idea of where we want to go. Also, it's important to shoot with the computer in mind as well as with the end image in mind. The advantage and disadvantage of having a partner is kind of two sides of the same coin. Creatively it's easier to just please yourself. But having two people helps keep you from going off on a tangent that only you will understand. If your partner stares at you and says, `I don't get it,' then chances are the viewing public won't get it either. The critical thing is to play fair. We try to build on each other's ideas. If we disagree, we try to do it respectfully."

What if you are not ready to take on the business of digital technology? Finding a creative partner may be the answer. J.W. says, "The things we do together are almost all her photography with my digital imaging. She occasionally paints on the computer with my help and I occasionally shoot. Cathy's a better people shooter than I am. For that matter, she's the best I've ever met. After a while she started asking me what I could do in the Mac to help some of her shots out. So it goes both ways."

Cathy explains how she got started, "Well, the truth of it is, he tricked me! I had this block against the computer and so one evening he innocently said, `Hey, I have these photos you might have fun handcoloring. Why don't you play around with them and see what you come up with.' So I did--for four hours and I really had fun! The next day J.W. told me that the client really liked what I'd done to those photos. Imagine my surprise. I'd been duped by my own husband into working on the computer! Since then, I've become more interested in the computer as a tool to enhance, manipulate, and create with. It's exciting to know that I live with one of the most respected digital artists in the nation. Who wouldn't want to work with someone like that? We just have a good time and create fun."