How to get your Photo projects Crowdfunded

Photographers are generally well meaning folks. They take pictures hoping to express their creativity and talent but some how, they also become dreamers. 

The dream is to get funded to pursue what you love doing. It is a great idea but how do you get funded?

Do you really need a new camera to shoot pictures these days?

I remember a time when the DSLR market was taking off during the late 2000s, this is around 2008 to 2010. The brands were going all out to get you to switch and during my time at Sony Asia Pacific, several projects were submitted to me for consultation. At that time, I was engaged as a consultant of sorts for their DSLR market in the Asia Pacific Region. Some got rejected while others were a little more meaningful. These folks got the cameras they asked for in return for content. They were fully funded because Sony needed to show what their line of cameras were possible. No professional would touch their products with a ten foot pole. Needless to say, several got lucky in my time. 

Today that market has all but dried up. Brands like Nikon and Canon want you to create images but they are leveraging on professional photographers who already have a following. Why bother to create a star when you already have one working alongside you? Even if you pitch a great idea, the problem is always two folds. Who will take up the effort to advertise your successful foray into making a picture book, portfolio or for that matter camera. 

Why Crowdfunding is getting Harder


It has to do with value. What is it that you bring to the table of these big brands that make it so unique they can't get someone else, a pro, to do it for them for free camera gear?

This is why people turn to Indiegogo and Kickstarter to crowdfund. Here are some rules to follow.

#1 Get a Life

I have seen many epic fails. Like the one saying, I need a new camera to pursue my career in photography. That sort of line not only sounds overly honest, but gullible to anyone thinking that he or she will actually do a good job after getting funded. You got an iPhone?

Well shoot something, show it off in a portfolio before asking for money. If someone notices your talent in your iPhone photography, they might give you the money you need to get started. You need to show that your life is in photography and if you don't even have iPhone pictures to prove it, you're just another snake oil salesman. The same is for those hoping to get funded for a camera to do a video documentary....god sakes, doesn't the iPhone take video already? 

What's more, there are plenty of places to show off your budding talent. Pick Flickr or even Instagram....of for that matter EyeEm to show off your eye and maybe someone will take you seriously. 

#2 Put Effort into a Video or Pitch for Crowdfunding

A lot of folks think that by putting up a collage of sorts is enough to convince people you're the next ace photog who can take on the likes of McCurry or McCullin. 

You heard of the selfie, well now you can sell yourself by talking about what this project is all about. Your face says it all and if you can't be bothered to put effort into a video or a proper presentation for your crowdfunding proposal, then what makes you think that people out there will take you seriously? Sure there is a sucker born every minute but they can't all be hanging out on Kickstarter all day waiting for you to happen. 

A good pitch is just one short sentence. Don't matter if that is your exhibition, limited run prints or anything remotely bookish. Weave your own dream into the pitch and tell the world why they need someone like you to do this. If you are not talented in such delivery, get a friend to help...unless they are all stoned and high on weed, chances are your pal who did well in English could help you out. 

#3 Clarify your Photography Ambitions with an Example

There are those crowd funding pitches that has only one photo of something totally unrelated to the thing you want to do. It's like having a photograph of a mole hill and asking people for money to go photograph the earthquake in Nepal. 

People have to know you have done something like that to start to read your pitch. Showing examples of past work in high altitudes (and I don't mean photography from an airplane window) would be the first step. 

For video projects, the same can be said of having a short documentary, shot and edited on your iPhone. If you can't do that, what good are you with bigger projects?

#4 Get Co-Sponsors to come in with you

Get someone to sponsor your airplane ticket. Show them the logo on kickstarter and your blog (getting a free website is easy peasy these days) as long as you have some other sponsors onboard, be it for footwear, c-rations, or even a backpack, have them on your pitch page as a sort of endorsement. 

If you can get pop culture websites like theVerge, Vice, or some other entity with a cult following to feature you, mention them too. Your publicity with them will ensure that you are legit. Don't ask me how you should be getting such sponsors because if you haven't a clue on where to start, then you shouldn't be pitching. 

There are some companies like Getty Images that offer grants from time to time. It would be good for you to look them out to see if you qualify, who knows? It could be right down your alley. 

#5 Activate your online Presence

If you are serious about doing a book on the homeless on New York, then start a Tumblr, Vimeo, YouTube or Instagram feed to show what you are doing daily even during the campaign period. You have to show your sincerity with passion and funders will google you to find out who you actually are. 

If you haven't got an online presence of anysort, you are in deep shit. This is because they want to see the number of followers you have online. Facebook is a ditch because it won't help you connect your followers to what you are doing without some form of payment. It's online prostitution only that it's completely legal. You pay them, they help you. No money? Then why are you on Facebook?

Why the Rules Got So much Harder

You have no idea how many people would contact big brand names for free stuff and sponsorship. For example, you might want to get socially aware corporations to help you with a book you're doing but ultimately, they need to know who the hell you are. If you are a distant relative to Brad Pitt or the Queen of England, it could help....but if you're a nobody wanting something from them. Fat chance. 

Big brands don't like to sponsor projects which are difficult to use to reach consumers. For example, a digital book is pretty much useless because not everyone will have the patience to download it once it is available. They prefer immediate delivery of content such as an Instagram feed than a picture book that only exist on the iPad. 

Where are the Book Sponsorships?

For those hoping to pitch a physical book...that is to find a willing publisher. Good luck. Photo books sells best if they are by famous photographers. So if you are not famous, what chances do you have in publishing a photo book?

Now I know you have come across some of those 'publishers' who are out to print your books. What they don't tell you is that you have to pay for it and let them publish and distribute for you.

Paper prints cost money, so unless you already have a sponsor, you should not do it. Pitching ideas and concepts to print publishers of photo books will fall in the same hole. If you are nobody, then you better bring something to the table that is worth their time. Let's say you want a print run of 10,000 copies of which you already have a corporate client willing to take half of that at a profitable retail price. Then the publisher will look into how that might work to their advantage, like maybe give you money to finish the project. Never give them a project in 'concept' stage when you don't have the funds to do it. Publishers don't like buying into a great idea with them having to foot the bill of your project cost.

For that you need to find other sponsors, like maybe from people who you have access to in your linkedin profile? If you have a whole list of sponsors, it shows you have gone some way to getting funding.... tell your friends you are on Kickstarter and they might just toss you something to get you going. Will it be enough? I don't know. Do you have Bill Gates on your Linkedin profile as a friend? Warren Buffet maybe? 

Sponsorship by anyone is a commercial concern. They need to get visibility from your project and for some small firms, they could sponsor you physical stuff that you might need on your journey. That's how you start the ball rolling. 

I think that selling unique prints autographed by you is a good step to rewarding your sponsors....provided your book takes off like a Russian rocket and not one from Space X or NASA. It is just a matter of I scratch your back and you scratch mine. Sponsors need to get something out of it. Even if you are publishing a book, a logo and a word of thanks plus a few complimentary copies will earn you enough respect for a second round of sponsorship if you prove to be worth your weight in salt.

Sponsorship is never a one way street. You have to meet your sponsors in the middle and see what sort of use that would be to your eventual goal.

On Kickstarter, I have seen picture books get crowdfunded by unique talents. There was a photographer in the 70s porn industry who had all this prints and she needed the funds to produce a book about the industry. That sold like hot cakes. That said, I am not asking you to do only porn related projects. 

Activist style book projects for humanitarian goals can also be successful if you deal with the right corporate brands who want to leverage on that. Again, the more famous you are, the better it will be for them to meet you. If all you ever had was a Facebook page...well....good luck. 

As for UN related bodies who are into helping others. Let me make it clear. The UN is not a charitable body that gives you money for book projects. It is the other way round. I worked on a UNICEF related book project (ISBN 981-05-3227) where the whole thing was financed and sponsored by Konica Minolta. Getting their seal on your book is very difficult, they want to know what that is worth to you and how much you are going to pay for that privilege. The book was sold as a charity concern with ALL of the retail revenue going to them. No skimping on the details on paying on the profits on this book as a gesture of their involvement. They don't need that.

The second book project we took up with them was left them fighting for credit. Both the Geneva office and the NY office wanted credit for green lighting the project and it never took off the ground due to internal politics. So that should give you an idea on how not to get started on this path. 

I wish there was a blog that featured failure. To tell people that everything they thought they were doing right ended up wrong. Makes for a valuable lesson for all those who want to take the same path. 

We all dream of doing the things we love and hopefully make a living out of it. It doesn't always happen that way and for good reason too. There is a commercial aspect to everything related to such projects and if it is not viable. It will sink faster than the Titanic.