Case study: Kaleel Zibe, a wildlife photographer

In November 2013 I received an email from Kaleel Zibe, a professional wildlife and nature photographer. His business has been under pressure for many years. ‘The crash of stock price imagery, and the fact that everyone is now an amateur photographer, means we in the profession need to re-think what we’re doing to make money. For years now the classic ways of earning a living from photography have had eroding returns.’

Zibe doesn’t make his living from any single source. He takes beautiful images of wildlife which he sells to magazines such as Birdwatching Magazine and BBC Wildlife. He is a commercial photographer for a wide range of corporate clients. His book Wildlife of the Farne Islands (a small uninhabited archipelago a couple of miles off the north-east coast of England that is a haven for birds and sea creatures), was published in 2011. Together with fellow photographers Alan Hewitt and Trai Anfiel, Zibe runs Hawk’s Head Photography, which provides workshops and safaris to amateur photographers keen to improve their technique or just get closer to nature.

An example of the safaris offered by Hawk’s Head Photography takes place in early summer. Up to ten participants pay £129 each to travel to the Farne Islands by boat. The day involves a cruise around the islands, landings on two of them, a return to the mainland for an evening meal and then a return to the islands at dusk to catch images of guillemot fledglings learning to fly. Zibe or one of his colleagues is on hand to help teach the attendees to take better photographs, to adapt the settings on their cameras and to learn more about the wildlife on the island. Those who want more tuition or dedicated time can pay £349 for a one-to-one workshop.

Zibe is already facing the threat from free. He is facing it directly from people using his images without permission, and indirectly as competition from both professionals and amateurs drives the cost of stock photography through the floor. His response has included a mix of the traditional (branching out into the corporate sector, creating coffee-table books of his work) and the non-traditional (wildlife safaris that combine nature watching and photography lessons). His email to me suggested that he thought there was lots more scope in what he was doing.

‘I’m already thinking of giving away free stuff, including perhaps a cut-down version of the physical book as an eBook, a short eBook on how to take beautiful wildlife photos (I already teach photography) and some manner of free images to the general public. For the latter, I’m thinking screen wallpaper, although I need to think about what else. At the top end of the curve, I plan to push the higher end stuff such as signed, limited prints, one-to-one photo workshops and so on.’

It’s great that Zibe is already thinking about how to harness the Curve. He’s already building a Twitter and Facebook following and gathering email addresses of potential customers. There is more opportunity to start tying all that together. For example a short eBook on taking marvellous photos could be given away for free in return for an email address. Zibe’s Twitter feed could feature images of the day or images of the week to encourage followers to join for access to some of his beautiful photography. Zibe could build a section of his website to encourage buyers of his book about the Farne Islands to submit their own images, creating a small community and giving him access to a ready-made audience for one of his next projects.

The important fact is that Zibe is not bemoaning the challenges in the stock photography business or the difficulties of making money as a skilled photographer. He is embracing the new opportunities: of being able to reach a wide audience for his safaris through the web, of using new technologies to stay in touch, and allowing people who love what he does to spend money ranging from hardly anything to hundreds of pounds on things they value.

It’s a great example of a Curve business.


Since The Curve was published in late 2013, many more examples of Curve businesses have come to my attention. I hope that this trend will continue. I shall carry on publishing case studies of new industries and new situations in which Curve ideas are implemented or demonstrated on the website. I hope they will help you think about how to apply the ideas of the Curve, especially to industries outside the obvious field of digital media.

Nicholas Lovell