Both Kickstarter and Emphas.is have emerged in the past two years to provide a crowdfunding
platform for photographers and their projects. And while crowdfunding might not save professional
photography, it certainly provides an interesting and viable method to finance photography projects
whether initiated by full-time pros or passionate enthusiasts.
Kickstarter was designed to raise money with very specific parameters: 1) projects must be
finitein duration, 2) a minimum threshold of funding must be reached by a certain date for the
project to be greenlighted, and 3) donors must receive something in return – an
institutionalized crowd engagement policy that is par for the course on the social web.
Photographers and photography-related projects were quick to glom onto the rowdfunding concept
from the iPhone Tripod Mount & Stand (5,273 backers pledging $137,417) to Gerd Ludwig’s “Long
Shadow of Chernobyl” (435 backers pledging $23,316). Suddenly, a wide range of photographers
could find a following online from the unknown photographer with the esoteric project to industry
heavyweights whose traditional financing had evaporated with the publishing industry decline.
While a project can occur anywhere in the world, participation is limited to US residents only with
valid ID, Social Security Number, US bank account, US address and a major US credit or debit
account. Presumably, this is done for tax and fraud purposes. Kickstarter takes a 5% fee of any
money raised, and the money is disbursed through Amazon Payments which takes another 3% fee.
Emphasis.is has attracted young talent who have successfully raised thousands of dollars to cover
projects domestically and abroad. Co-founders Karim Ben Khelifa and Tina Ahrens have roots in
photojournalism, and the platform is a reflection of their commitment to helping documentary
photography. With a niche focus on photojournalism, Emphas.is lacks the sheer traffic and donor
numbers like Kickstarter,but it does provide a very targeted project list that some professional
photographers find appealing. Like Kickstarter, Emphas.is requires participants to create a
fundraising target and deadline. Emphas.is takes a 15% fee of any money raised.
IndieGoGo bills itself as the “world’s leading international funding platform,” having raised millions of
dollars for projects in over 200 countries. Unlike Kickstarter and Emphas.is, IndieGoGo, has less
stringent rules for participation, allowing campaigns to cover a range of categories from creative to
cause-related to entrepreneurial. Indpendent filmmakers have found a niche on the site.
Although you must define a funding goal and period, IndieGoGo differs from Kickstarter and Emphas.is
in that you don’t have to reach your funding goal to keep the funds. Campaign owners who fail to meet
their target can still collect the money raised, albeit at a higher rate (9% instead of 4%). IndieGoGo takes
a 4% fee of any money raised. Additionally, the third party funds disbursement service takes another
Is My Project Fundable?
Many of the photographers Photoshelter has talked to about Kickstarter had some skepticism about
their ability to fund a project, so in that respect, the first project is almost always classified as an
experiment. Fortunately, photographers are often used to working on finite projects, which makes
conceptualizing the funding easier.
But crowdfunding success seems partially predicated on a few factors:
• Realistic monetary target (most photo projects range from $1,000-$10,000)
• A specific project that is interesting to a wider audience
• A way to market to that audience
College Photographer, Tim Hussin and his brother, raised over $3,000 from 100 donors to help fund
“reCycled,” their bicycling trip across the US to investigate niche communities. Tim explained,
“We thought “Kickstarter” would be a great way to fund our project because we were wanting to look
at fringe communities that were trying to be more autonomous and self-sustatining–relying on
individual parts of the community rather than external sources…We wanted to keep it supported by
the people for the people, so we thought Kickstarter would be a great way to get a little money to
When they were conceptualizing the project, they heard about the crowdfunding site, and decided to
give it a shot, and were pleased with the results. Tim said, “Yeah, I was a little bit surprised. It was
really motivating and exciting. People showed a lot of support without even really seeing any product
yet. We sort of made a little pitch video and told people what we wanted to do. This photography
network that I developed in the past several years definitely helped with that because a lot of people
had known my work and were really supportive of it.”