OpEd: Hyperlocal Photography

As newspapers and other media outlets figure out how to evolve their business models, you’ll inevitably hear hyperlocal mentioned as part of the strategy.

There’s already a proliferation of neighborhood blogs in most major cities that cover the beat. These are mostly done by devoted residents, and consist of aggregated stories, commentary and sometimes first hand reporting. There’s no doubt there are probably some interesting examples out there but for the most part none have really captured my attention.

However, I am interested in how these blogs use photography.  For the most part, it’s the bloggers out there snapping with their point and shoots or cellphones.  As you can imagine, most of the photos are unremarkable, and often really bad.  But as I’ve thought about the idea of hyperlocal it has become more clear to me that this is an avenue worth pursuing for photographers.  In fact, I believe there’s an insane amount of opportunity here for ambitious, intelligent and web savvy photographers.

Local newspapers are axing photographers left and right, and will be relying on user generated imagery more and more in the future.  It makes sense. Sorry photojournalists, but it does, especially for smaller papers. The good ole days aren’t coming back, so we have to look to the future.

Instead of bemoaning the loss, I say look for the opportunity.  If local newspapers are relying on user generated content, there’s an opportunity to offer up a better product. There’s an opportunity to establish yourself as the visual authority of your locality, neighborhood or region.  And if you team up with a few other photographers I absolutely believe you can create a dynamic, engaging website that people in your community will be drawn to visit.

Whose Going to Pay

Ok, I know. How the hell are you going to make a living doing this?  Well, you won’t at first. Sorry, no magic formula here.  Everything takes time, dedication and persistence.  But if you keep at it and are bringing the best visual stories about your community to your audience, I believe you can attract local advertising eventually.  And if you’re innovative enough you can partner with local businesses and organizations and create joint ventures where you both benefit monetarily.

The great part of hyperlocal is that it opens up a whole synergy between the digital product and physical destinations.  Users who come across an ad, advertorial or sponsored post can frequent the physical establishments, and spend their money there.  Beyond that though, there’s always a deeper connection to the places that are around us and that we frequent.  We’re more interested in these places.

Depending on the photographers, there could also be opportunities for executing interesting commercial campaigns for small businesses through social media and content marketing.  I doubt many people are interested in the marketing element of all of this, but in the age we live in, the lines between editorial and commercial are blurring, so if you can navigate both in interesting ways, you could do some innovative things.

We’re All From Somewhere

I was born and raised in St. Cloud, Minnesota. It’s in the central part of the state and serves as the hub for all the surrounding smaller towns.  We have a local newspaper, The St. Cloud Times.  The website is what you would expect from a smaller Gannet property. It doesn’t look like it’s been upgraded sine 2004, the photographs small and the navigation confusing.

If a few enterprising photographers from St. Cloud where to implement my idea, and create a hyperlocal photography website that covers St. Cloud and the surrounding communities, I would be all over it.  And I don’t live anywhere near there anymore. I live in Brooklyn.

Point being that you can draw in people that have moved away and have a desire to see how their hometowns look like after all these years.

None of this will be easy. It might not work. It might work better in some places than others.  And maybe I’m too much of an idealist, but even if there’s no way to make a living doing this, I believe there’s a greater historical purpose as well.  We can create living visual archives of a time and place, very specific places.

I’m sure if you did the research you could piece together a visual history of almost any neighborhood, but man, would it be a ton of work. If we start now, and are ambitious and devoted we could almost create a visual Wikipedia for all the places we live.  How awesome would that be?

For this to work though, a few photographers and editors will need to take some chances.  But with nothing much to lose these days, I don’t see that many photographers have much to lose.

Do you know of any examples of a hyperlocal site dedicated to photography?

UPDATE: Number 6 on this list of ideas is ‘Pictures, Pictures, Pictures’

6. Pictures, pictures, pictures

I can guess why hyperlocal sites are sometimes short on pictures – it’s the hardest part of the story package to get because it can be time consuming. But there are other ways – submitted pictures, perhaps, or use of Flickr images (with permission). Maybe even approaching the local paper for the image might be a good way of starting a relationship.

  • http://bryanformhals.com/ Bryan Formhals

    I thinking something more photography oriented. Lots of photos. Photoessays, urban landscape, portraits.

    It’s really involved and for most places would require many photographers.

    I don’t mind the personal narrative/opinion/perspective, that’s cool. But I guess what I’m thinking of is something insanely documentary and detailed.

  • http://chrisnorris.strange.rs Chris Norris

    Something close to that:

    Madison Guy has posted some very interesting content for a while now. Recently there has been some national things (oil spill, and he usually has some political posts) but it largely centers around Madison and quite often his neighborhood. The blog gets linked from dane101.com all the time and I’m guessing has a fair number of page views.

    I think there are a lot of flickr folks that come close, but I haven’t seen many local Madison blogs that really post as consistently as Letter From Here.

  • http://bryanformhals.com/ Bryan Formhals

    Thanks Thomas. It really depend on each location I suppose. And I admit I haven’t done my research to see what’s out there, so this could really be kind of a ridiculous oped.

    Also, I think I’m speaking more about documentary/photojournalism than ‘art’ photography. I’m not so much interested in the art ‘scene,’ I’m more interested in the day to day.

  • http://www.BuenosAiresPhotographer.com Thomas Locke Hobbs


    I’m an American expat photographer living in Buenos Aires. A couple of years ago I started the site http://www.BuenosAiresPhotographer.com. I admit the name is a little preposterous but I chose it because I thought it would index well in Google.

    The site consists of my digital snapshots taken around the city. Usually the photos are a by-product of other activities; outtakes from freelance jobs, research notes for different projects or just quick snaps taken in the moment. I tag the photos and describe their locations as best I can.

    The site receives several thousand unique visitors per month. While this isn’t enough to make money via advertising, in the two years since starting the site I’ve sold a number of images to magazines who found my images via Google. I’ve also gotten several small commercial jobs from readers of the blog.

    To judge by the email feedback I’ve gotten, most of my readers are Argentines living in the US and Europe, looking for a bit of nostalgia. Most of the locals I show the site to comment on how boring and mundane the photos are, which I take as a compliment.