The Digital Journalist
Take Control of your Creative Business - Personal Online Archives For All
August 2004

by Evan Nisselson

Part 2

After Part 1 of this series appeared last month, photographers and agencies in Italy, the United States, Israel, Afghanistan and South Africa responded to validate the problems outlined. They, too, are constantly searching for solutions to their workflow and marketing challenges. Many photographers complain that technology has added to their workload, becoming more of a roadblock than a valuable tool.

Part 1 concluded:

Photographers want to minimize repetitive production tasks, sell more pictures and have an organized method of delivering digital images to their clients. Buyers want tools to find unique, relevant photos within their budget and fast access to high-resolution downloads.

Part 2 is not my typical article, examining others' technologies and their promise for photography. Instead, I'm writing about how veteran photographers, picture editors, technologists and engineers are combining their wisdom to create technology to solve the problems we all face. We want technology helping our photographer and editor friends instead of being overwhelmed by the challenges and costs.

Digital Railroad is that company and we have developed a system that gives photographers the tools to easily manage, market and sell their images online. It provides a personalized online archive as powerful as a large agency. The control remains in the photographers' hands to decide how and where to sell their images.

Digital Railroad manages the technology for photographers so they can focus on what they love: being creative.

What follows are real-life photographer and buyer problems-and examples of how Digital Railroad services help them take control of their businesses.

Minimizing Repetitive Tasks

After a day of photographing in Paris, National Geographic photographer Sisse Brimberg faces common production and business hurtles. She must process, market and sell over 10 gigabytes of high-resolution images. Crafting special edits for each potential client, many of them in North America, requires her to organize multiple edits, cut multiple DVDs and ship them via FedEx. This translates to several shooting days lost and hundreds of dollars in shipping and materials.

To reinvent her business and minimize workflow, Sisse collaborates with her "house expert," husband Cotton Coulson. Cotton has a rare view of the business of photography from the selling and buying perspective: a National Geographic veteran, award-winning director of photography at the Baltimore Sun newspaper and U.S. News & World Report, where he was among the pioneers in using the Internet to edit and acquire high-resolution images for the magazine's cover. Now at CNET Networks, he continues to expand his personal photo portfolio. In Digital Railroad, he sees the Internet finally making a real difference in professional photographers' businesses.

Both Sisse and Cotton upload their images to their personal archive, Keenpress, powered by Digital Railroad. Cotton 2004 Portfolio features his recent images linked to his archive. Sisse's Russian Plastic Surgery story, shot for National Geographic but never published, is also on the site. Both Sisse and Cotton can share their unpublished stories in one central, rights-protected location, available for clients to search at any time.

Agencies and publications are leaving more production work to photographers these days-resizing, captioning and transmitting images worldwide through FTP (file transfer protocol). Repeatedly, photographers open, search, review, resize, upload and distribute those images. Digital Railroad believes there's a better way to drastically minimize repetitive tasks. Photographers upload once to their own central Internet archive, and with a couple of clicks they can FTP images and can publish photos with private and public permissions for agents and buyers to access from any Internet-connected browser worldwide.

Lisa Quinones, a Black Star photographer, is testing the Digital Railroad system to automate repetitive tasks in her digital workflow.

Lisa photographed the Democratic National Convention in Boston in late July and shot gigabytes of digital images, captioned them with her favorite captioning program, then uploaded them to her online archive via FTP.

Digital Railroad servers powering her archive automatically resized the images, associated the captions, and added a watermark to all comp photos. By 1:00 a.m. following the convention, Lisa FTP'd images to her agent and published photos to her public archive and featured photos on her personal home page. Anyone visiting Lisa Quinones' archive can search for images with keywords like "convention," "democratic" and "Kerry."

Lisa can easily create permissions for her agent, letting them manage her image sales as they've done since she joined the Black Star agency. The decision of how and where to sell images is hers.

Robert Wright is getting increasing requests for his photos that have appeared in BusinessWeek, Elle, Fortune, Men's Health, Newsweek and People. Redux Pictures represents some of his stock and he is also interested in transforming his portfolio Web site into a revenue-generating collection.

His new archive will help him promote his photos, such as Portraits, Business Interiors, Retail Shopping Malls, and photo essays like his trip to Cuba. Buyers can browse these lightboxes of images that are linked directly to Robert's archive. They can request images, search for similar photos and download high-resolution images upon payment.

Robert can upload images once to his archive, and quickly automate the delivery of any size images to his agent. He's just dramatically decreased the time he normally would spend at the computer.

While major photo agencies and wire services have some of these efficiencies, such technology has been too expensive for most photographers and smaller agencies. With Digital Railroad, any photographer, artist, and agent can have as good of a system as the major agencies.

Liberated Archives

Like me, many photographers are no longer shooting full-time but have thousands of valuable images collecting dust in filing cabinets or amidst stacks of archaic storage medium. Those images have no value if they cannot be searched, enjoyed, and potentially purchased.

I have 20 years' worth of negatives just waiting to be shared and sold to anyone interested. I can finally market my documentary photography projects while I sleep: The Making of Excite@Home, Diners Across America, Other People's Weddings, Love the Living of Life.

Michael Schumann and Roger Richards were also full-time photographers with extensive personal archives. They're now unlocking the value of those dormant collections by uploading them to their personal archive powered by Digital Railroad.

Schumann, previously represented by SABA Press Photos, is now a full-time software architect and one of Digital Railroad's advisors. His archive features such stories as L.A. Fires, German Baptist Brethren, El Cua Nicaragua and Northridge Earthquake.

Richards, formerly with Gamma Liaison and Getty Images for 14-plus years, is now a photo editor at the Virginian-Pilot and also continues to work as a photographer and digital filmmaker. A couple of years ago, he withdrew his image archive from Getty and now he is marketing his 21mm archive.

A 100 percent digital commercial photographer, Kevin Sprague goes through multiple steps to create private Web pages of thumbnails for clients' review. These makeshift Web pages are tough to navigate and are never connected to the high-resolution images. His clients manually select images, e-mail an order list and then Kevin spends hours searching, resizing and delivering them via FTP, e-mail or CD.

Kevin can't wait to use his Digital Railroad archive with a client. He will upload images once, then share the group of images with download permissions. The client will review online, edit and then download instantly with permission from Kevin's archive. Kevin also uses his archive to promote his other fine art photography projects: Postmarks, and Compositions.


Technology has also deeply impacted buyers. Ninety percent of photo searching once in the hands of suppliers is now the responsibility of buyers. Here's what some are saying:

"Digital Railroad will enable photographers to take control of their very own stock photography future: as easy as one-two-three; cataloguing and archiving will become a pleasure rather than a chore... AND at the receiving end, the photographers' clients - we the photo editors - will get a submission of images that can be edited, shared with other photo editors and art directors, and downloaded in the blink of an eye. Get ready to throw out the old lightboxes!" says Sabine Meyer, photo editor, National Geographic Adventure.

"We just can't go to 30 different photographer Web sites, hoping for searchable online archives with high-resolution images. If we had a system with a consistent interface to get content from a variety of different photographers, we're going to use it because we're about speed, variety and great photos. It would also help us find the most unique images for our stories that might not appear on the major wires," says Damon Kiesow, AOL photo editor.

After testing Digital Railroad, Kiesow sees a valuable product for photo editors and photographers. Because a remote photographer can upload photos once and create different edits for different clients, the playing field has been altered. "It has great potential to make our job easier."

Photographers, editors and those of us with potential goldmines in extensive archives, all want a way to cut the time and technology hassles. We want to spend our time creating, not overseeing technology.

The only reason people make pictures is to visually communicate-it's time technology made it easier for more great photos to be seen by more people.

© Evan Nisselson

Evan Nisselson is founder and CEO of Digital Railroad, Inc. He has worked in the photography industry for 14 years and has focused on digital imaging since 1995. He has seven years' experience at technology start-ups, from VP Business Development, EVP of Content and Product Strategy, to manager of product launches and content teams. Evan has negotiated and signed deals with Microsoft, AOL, Warner Bros., HBO, Intel, Telecom Italia,, Island Def Jam, Getty Images, Magnum Photos, and Time Inc. Additionally, he has been a photo editor, software developer, lecturer, moderator, contest judge, a published photographer and a digital imaging consultant.
Evan has developed, built and launched two Internet consumer photo portals: in 2003, for Telecom Italia's #1 Internet portal,; and in 1997, he conceived and managed the first broadband Internet photography portal for Excite@Home. This became a multimillion dollar joint venture with Intel. Evan has also worked as a photo editor at SABA Press Photos, an assignment editor on photo book projects and he continues to work on his documentary photography projects.