Community Photo Sharing Sites Can Build Your BrandAt age 13, Simon Östemar’s passion for photography began when his father brought an early digital camera with 1.3 mpx home from work. In 2009, Simon was working in Australia at a camera store. That same year, he had the idea to create a photo community specifically around competitions. Ironically, he’s not really a competitive person himself, but he sought a unique idea for a photography-centered website. Right now he’s studying for a Bachelor of Digital Media with a major in Web Communication in Perth, Australia. Together with his partner Ida, he has now turned the maturing community into a company, excited to discover where this might lead.

The domain name of his community and company is the Swedish word for photo competition: Fototävling. Simple and straightforward, it directly conveys what the website is all about. The name alone can have a big influence on its success. Three days after having the idea, he published a rudimentary execution of the site. For the first competition, people would send their submissions via email. This wasn’t a very effective workflow, of course, taking him hours at times to look at all the submitted photos. It was a surprise to him how many had responded. Today, there are over 4,000 photographers following the Facebook page.

In the future, Simon Östemar wishes to include more social features on the website instead of relegating most interaction to Facebook; he feels it would increase traffic and entice visitors to spend more time at the site. A mobile version of the site is also on the priority list, since over 20% of his visitors come from mobile — even though he already has a couple of Swedish sponsors supporting each competition with prizes. The steady growth so far has been possible due to his commitment and efforts, but also the dedication from his programmer, a Web designer, and two other judges, Kristin Horn Sellström and Robert Helberg.

While Simon is still at the beginning, there’s Jared Polin, who has already succeeded in gaining a large following on YouTube. Behind the pseudonym “Fro Knows Photo,” he has created an ingenious brand around his most prominent feature: his afro-style hair. So far he has gotten 110,000 subscribers, not counting the activity on his blog and forum. Another example of a successful formula is the Hong Kong-based Photoshop / YouTube show combo DigitalRev. It has over 335,000 subscribers, myself included.

The latter is a fantastic execution of the simple idea of showing exactly the things in which a photographer might be interested. By combining a not-so-serious approach with the typical factual run-down, presenter David targets precisely the amateur and up-and-coming pro crowd. This is, of course, the majority of the market; building a brand is all about understanding that market.

Because photographers are always highly engaged with social activities, they’re a good example for the success and failure of certain ideas. On Google+ particularly, some photographers have understood the strengths of that platform to further expand the reach of their work and brand. One prominent example is the world-renowned HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff. He now has over 3.2 million followers, but of course he already had a great following of fans for many years. Trey is considered the pioneer of HDR photography.

Brands are a culmination of a great product, and a dream or vision in which people can take part. That’s what sells. Trey Ratcliff, for instance, gives his fans the possibility to travel the world, for free, from the comfort of their computers. This is his product, and the execution includes giving away photos for free, too. It maybe doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s just one example of a success story.

Image used through CC by Marsmet544