I recently reached out to David Clifford a photographer who works out of Aspen, CO, because I saw a couple videos he made that fit a trend I’ve been seeing with sponsored editorial content. Or at least it’s a trend I’d like to see more of, because I think it’s going to be a significant new source of income for editorial photographers. I already see ad agencies trying to produce this type of content (see this Nike video with 6.3 million views for proof), but I think it’s going to be more effective for companies to pair up with editorial photographers, give them products or people with interesting stories and tell them to go produce something worth watching.

One of the videos David produced (Lucky) won best overall in the 1st Annual APA Members Short Video Contest. His background as the former photo editor at Rock & Ice and Trailrunner magazines makes him the perfect person to talk with about this continuing trend.

Here’s what he told me about the videos:

Everything is moving to the motion realm and I’d been shooting a fair amount of video but nothing that I could put my name on. It was all video clips or I’d shoot something for a client and I’d just be a cameraman. So, I had the opportunity to make a couple videos. One was for Bluewater ropes and the other for a client that in the end didn’t want to pay the usage fee so it became a promo piece. The Bluewater one is interesting because the athlete was in charge of producing something and he came to me to collaborate on it.

With these videos I ended up created this hybrid space for myself where it’s not full editorial and it’s not fully advertising, but it can do either and serves both really well.

The clients I showed the films to responded really well and I recently got hired by Mountain Hardware to shoot in the Grand Canyon where I did 75% video and 25% stills.

I see this being a huge part of my career. People are thinking more in terms of video than stills. In my recent dealings with those in charge of producing content, the photography is an afterthought. Having the whole package is important.

What’s also interesting is that it’s impossible to shoot video and stills at the same time, so you end up hiring someone to do one of those and you become more of a director, which is a little bit weird, because it’s hard to let go of the control.

I feel like the tools have democratized the process and made it so anybody can produce content so it comes down to how good are you at finding the light, how good are you at telling a story and how good are you at managing a project.

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    • Sorry about the above. I wrote a comment but it didn’t upload so sent another to see if worked. Clearly that did and other didn’t.
      I just wanted to say great post and I’m seeing the same with my clients. They want great stories with a subtle link to their brand.
      Just come back from Istanbul for a soup company where I followed around their head chef with he tested new ingredients for their next soup. Worked really well.

  1. I think a better headline would be “The Future For Editorial Photographers Is Sponsored”- in other words doing assignments for advertising,public relations, and corporate clients. Nothing new there. The Magnum Photo Co-operative was going after this kind of work almost the moment they were founded in the late 1940s, Blackstar too. So maybe an even better headline revision would be “The Past, Present and Future For Editorial Photography Is Sponsored”

    • this is not editorial photographers shooting advertising. that’s completely different and yes, been around for years.

      • The value to a company is much higher than to an editorial client. The usage and creative fees should also be much higher than editorial rates. The director/photographer should charge advertising rates.

  2. Part of reason for the trend might have to do with the fact that a lot of new, small, niche businesses get their start by doing their marketing on the web and other viral ways (they really have no other way). They’re just, by their very nature, closer to their customers, and using them and their stories in promotional videos automatically makes sense, and is just an extension of what they’re already doing in other spaces.

    As people come to expect this approach (it’s partly a cultural shift by now), big brands like Nike have realized they have to head in this direction, too. But it’s not just “hey, we need to use YouTube,” it’s more, “even though we’re big, we need to get closer to our users, too.”

    For me, Mountain Hardware has me hooked on their sponsored climber, Ueli Steck. Even though I know he’s getting paid, and it’s all one big marketing effort, I am still riveted by the story.

    • I feel like it’s tough to pull this off because so much video is just time-wasting crap. I have to be pulled in before I invest 30 seconds, 2 minutes, 5 minutes etc in watching. Still photography requires no such investment on the part of the viewer.

      That’s something to think about, if you’re getting into the film production game. There’s no captive audience online.

      • You have to grab-them-by-the-throat in the first 30 seconds for movies, and the first page for novels. It’s always been this way.

        If the first 30 seconds of a ‘net video is all paper-thin-DOF, 1000 FPS slo-mo, or stop-motion scudding clouds, I’m gone. Life is too short to waste your time on things that are boring or pretentious.

        • These days I want to be pulled in before I even start it. Unless it’s something I’m specifically searching for (ie, a product demo), I want some backstory or hook before I will even start. This could be a mix of stills, words, concept etc.

          And pages/stories with autostart video get instantly stopped. Nothing’s more annoying than a sudden audio jolt.

          But then again, try selling this to marketers who think everyone will watch their beloved 10 minute demo. They’re like this guy: http://www.theonion.com/articles/hey-everybody-this-cool-new-tide-detergent-video-i,28356/

  3. Hi Carl,
    I think it does have the ability to work. We are at a very interesting time in media where stills and video/motion are competing for dollars and space. At some point we will need to embrace the new outlets and supply interesting visuals and stories. I am very excited about the new opportunities that motion brings. Mountain Hardwear has some of the best athletes on the planet and it was amazing to be able to work with Dakota Jones and Max King in the Grand Canyon recently. I look forward to seeing that piece edited. Good point Craig about time. I think having a shorter more digestible piece is going to be a smart approach.

  4. @ Craig, I agree and actually IMO even 30 seconds is an agony of time to wait for something exciting to happen. I feel that if you don’t grab the viewer in the first one to three seconds, you have lost the audience, and if you don’t have a really strong story hook to hold them, you’ll get 30 seconds of attention at most even with a big bang to start. There is a reason that commercials are 30 seconds, and a reason that scene cuts are getting shorter and shorter.

    @David – Definitely agree. The business landscape for creative disciplines is in the throes of a seismic shift, and those who are ignoring traditional media/creative boundaries are finding unique new ways to succeed.

  5. @craig I’m with you too, pretty much as soon as a video comes up online I click it off. I find it really intrusive. However a great series of stills I’d be more likely to click through because I feel I have control and I can come and go from it. I think the conversation to video shooters is important to know about but I also think its really over blown video production is so expensive and time consuming it just doesn’t make sense most of the time.

  6. […] The Future For Editorial Photography Is Sponsoredplain-glass.flywheelsites.comI recently reached out to David Clifford a photographer who works out of Aspen, CO, because I saw a couple videos he made that fit a trend I’ve been seeing with sponsored editorial content. Or at least it’s a trend […]

  7. c.d. embry, that is cold hearted. don’t you think paper thin depth of field and 300 fps can be a useful tool in the kit? I think it’s lame to just have decent visuals but aren’t we all visual artist? My short film are just for a small audience of climbers. In that arena they welcomed as a fresh perspective on what has become a cookie cutter approach.

  8. […] was a great post a few days ago on A Photo Editor titled “The Future of Editorial Photography is Sponsored” which I wanted to take a moment to weight in on. Rob Haggard interviews photographer / […]

  9. “The usage and creative fees should also be much higher than editorial rates. The director/photographer should charge advertising rates.” Unfortunately I don’t believe that to be the case. I don’t know what Clifford’s deal was but more often than not this kind of content is produced by photographers building video portfolios and producing pieces for less than an editorial day rate. I’d be curious to see the budget for this one especially since athlete/sponsor obligations were involved.

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