Online gallery Utah3D is a collection of panorama photographs created by photographer Martin van Hemert. It showcases his best pieces: views of the Milky Way, landscapes of Bryce Canyon national park, shots of waterfall Brideswell. Bird In Flight spoke to Martin and his colleague Perry Van Schelt on the subject of the idea behind the exhibition, how he chose places to shoot and about the clients who purchase his works.
Martin van Hemert got involved with photo business in the mid 80-ties. At first he was printing custom photos, then gradually eased into commercial photography. Martin came up with the idea of an online gallery in 2010, when he wanted to show his work to a larger audience. He came up with the initial version of the site on his own, after taking an online course in using HTML-editor DreamWeaver. Once his gallery began attracting its first visitors he decided to continue with its development and teamed up with his friend Perry Van Schelt, whom he’s been working with for over thirty years. Hemert became in charge of the actual shooting part and stitching the panoramas together. Schelt took over the web development, technical support and marketing. First, Shelt completely redesigned the site. “It’s important for the gallery to have a consistent, cohesive look and style”, — Hemert says. The initial goal in starting a Utah3D was to have a site showcasing his personal photography, with a goal of attracting commercial panorama work. It was originally just a means to an end, but overtime it has taken on a life of its own and became a capable platform that sells Martin’s pieces.
One of the first steps is to determine the best time of day or time of year to shoot. Many of Martin’s panoramas are shot at dusk or dawn. The next step is editing and narrowing the shots down to the ideal set of images to stitch together. Next is processing, and often HDR Tonemapping which tends to be very time consuming. The choice of location is also highly important. Finding the ideal spot, not just an area, but the precise, pin point spot to shoot from is challenging. Some spots may have a great view in one direction but not in another. He seeks out places that project some intrigue or magic. “I tend to “live” with an image for a few days, revisiting it to see if it still has the feel I thought it had”, — Martin explains.
He uses a Canon 5D MKii camera with 15mm and 10mm fisheye lenses, mounted on a Nodal Ninja panorama head.
Martin and Perry have been successfully marketing their own site and haven’t used services of any marketing firms. This approach allows them to quickly respond to the visitors’ requests. Presently, the social media is the main source of their visitors, 10% comes from site StumbleUpon, another 2% — through the internet search or via direct reference. When it comes to marketing, Perry pays special attention to the frequently updated quality content: “People are fascinated with Martin’s panoramas based on his great subject matter. Martin’s attention to detail goes above and beyond what the average will do. We’ve tried to maintain that every step of the way”.
As the frequency of site hits grew, Martin and Perry began exploring the commercial opportunities. REI, a large American retail corporation that sells outdoor gear and sporting goods, became one of their first clients. They put together a campaign where posters were produced and placed at bus stops. The posters had an image of a person sitting on top of a mountain. A QR code printed on the poster took you to that place in the panorama. As you rotated your body with your phone, the panorama would rotate with you. Then, HSBC in Canada took interest in one of Martin’s panoramas of Dead Horse Point in Moab, Utah, and purchased the image to generate online sales and target wealth management clients. AT&T, an American multinational telecommunications corporation, paid for the rights to the use of a panorama shot in Bryce Canyon, Utah, in one of their campaigns. The experience of the Utah3D creators has shown that their clients represent different spheres of society, yet photos are always in demand in marketing and advertisement.
“It’s possible to generate profits off online galleries, but, like anything else, it’s a numbers game. Revenue can come from ads, print sales etc.”, — Martin says. — ” I also do other commercial projects, shoot a lot of still photography work, primarily architectural, and a lot for hotels. All of my personal photographic work currently is 360 panoramas, it consumes most of my time. I just do what I can when I can”.
Martin and Perry are currently putting together an opt-in program through Utah3D to photographers and enthusiast to learn how to create great panoramas and how to use them in their marketing efforts. “Earlier this year Perry completely redesigned the site and has given it a look I’m quite proud of. I see it expanding and evolving. I have ideas constantly floating in my head, and gradually the best ones bubble up to the top and get worked on”, – Martin says.