Thinking about crowdsourcing a photo project on Kickstarter? Learn from these success stories.

by Vickey Williams

posted Monday, October 7, 2013 at 7:58 AM EST


We've posted stories on a number of photo-centric Kickstarter campaigns on Imaging Resource in recent years, including this one for an inexpensive micro lens for smartphones. The brainchild of a Washington state mechanical engineering grad, we reported this summer the project breezed to its $5,000 goal. In fact, when the counting was done, Thomas Larson's idea had swept in more than 18 times that amount: $91,524.

Turns out Larson is a nice fellow and was kind enough to respond to our email inquiries this week about his experience with crowd funding, as did David Dyte, who just days ago saw the close of a successful photo book project on Kickstarter. An Australian who came to New York in 1999, Dyte watched his project more than triple its $3,000 goal. The book will showcase his photos of 56 neighborhoods that make up Brooklyn.


Photographer David Dyte, who recently saw his Kickstarter campaign for the photo book 'As Seen in Brooklyn' pull in more than $10,000 and more than triple his crowd-funding goal, offered a signed print of 'Nathan's at Coney Island 2013' for donors at the $25 level. A system of tiered rewards can grease the skids to prompt supporters to act.
Photo by David Dyte

Kickstarter is one of hundreds of services available to help with crowdsourced fund raising. It lays claim to being the largest and distinguishes itself by focusing solely on creative works. As of this week, it had more than 100 projects in its photography category. Think photo books, sets of photo postcards, photography workshops for at-risk teens, photo exhibits, photo excursions. A Londoner hit pay dirt with an idea for a pop-up pinhole camera kit. The public can be generous.

Indiegogo is another big crowdfunding platform that this week also listed scores of photography-related appeals counting down to a deadline. Its guidelines are looser and some are extremely, even painfully, personal. For example, backers kindly bought in to helping underwrite time off for a photographer to be with his cancer-stricken wife. But more self-serving pleas to "help me upgrade my camera" or "underwrite my life while I pursue a dream of travel and photography" had attracted little funds when we checked.

How Kickstarter works
Kickstarter says its has learned a bit, hosting nearly 50,000 projects and helping creators raise $814 million since 2009. Its model in a nutshell, as spelled out in its guidelines and site articles: The project must truly be a project, with an end point and a deliverable that equates to success. Kickstarter gets 5% of the draw and there is an additional 3-5% assessed to cover credit-card fees. The creator sets the amount sought, and funding is all or nothing; if the goal isn't met, no one's credit card gets charged. Project deadlines are never longer than 60 days and, if desired, can be as short as one day.

Kickstarter urges creators to offer "rewards" as incentives to would-be backers, based on amounts committed. For example, someone seeking backing for a photo book might promise a signed postcard print for a supporter buying in for $5. Successively larger amounts might net the donor a mention on a supporters page in the book, a copy of the book, or dinner with the photographer. There is stern language about delivering on reward promises and keeping backers informed throughout the process with progress reports. Creators must specify deadlines for delivering their rewards.

Creators lucky enough to exceed their goal are encouraged to use the extra money to improve the project and share their good fortune by upgrading their rewards. And there's lots of advice on what tends to work.

Having recently achieved their funding goals, Larson and Dyte were both concentrating on making good on their rewards promises when we reached out to talk. Both also said the set up and follow-through can be more time-consuming than anticipated.

Sharing what they learned
In his pitch for support, Larson explained he'd been working on the micro lens for more than a year in his basement and at the University of Washington. (Kickstarter stresses evidence of progress on a plan is a big motivator for would-be funders.) The idea of a self-adhering, reusable add-on lens for smartphones proved irresistible for about 5,000 people, who took Larson up on his offer to receive one by mail for a commitment of at least US$12-$15.


Thomas Larson's successfully funded Kickstarter project financed manufacture of his Micro Phone Lens, designed to allow close-up photos on smartphones and tablets.

His Kickstarter boost was sufficient to enable him to dedicate himself full time to the work, he told IR, "This has been a successful enough endeavor that I will most certainly keep working on it."

There's been some interest from supporters who might be willing to back him beyond this project, Larson said, but nothing serious. For now he's planning to grow his company on his own though he hopes to be able to make a hire or two in the next few months.

"It's been a challenge, but also a great learning experience to be fulfilling such a large amount of orders," he sad. He has a couple of other ideas related to "cell phone microscopy," as he terms it, but his interests are diverse and extend beyond imaging. Next Kickstarter project for Larson: Something involving food.

The biggest headache of his crowd-funding campaign? "All the paperwork, definitely," he said. "When starting a business there are about 1,000 things you have to keep track of, and there isn't any central way to deal with them." While he says he's on target for making his deadlines to donors, next time he'll focus even more on organization and prep work, and cut himself more leeway on timing. His project closed Sept. 10, and his targeted delivery of the lens is the end of October.


Thomas Larson is a mechanical engineer living in Seattle who had worked on his lens project in college classes -- and on his own -- for a year before going public with his search for financing. He has additional ideas in mind, he said, but for now he is focused on shipping the thousands of lenses purchased by his donors.

Like Larson, Dyte's project was well under way before he turned to the public for help. All the photos had been shot -- see his Picasa gallery -- and he had designer partner Lucia Reed lined up to help. As Kickstarter encouraged, the funds exceeding his goal will help him improve the project, taking the book from a planned 130 pages to 150. But there's really no overage, he said.

"The cost of all of those rewards will eat up the $10K," Dyte told us. "The price we offered on the actual book is less than it will cost to print, per copy, even with the discount for so many orders."

He's feeling a bit "in the weeds" these days, what with compiling the book and prepping for his promised delivery in December, but says he hopes to do more photo projects. "This has been too much fun not to try again."


David Dyte scouts shots in the Parkville neighborhood. Photo by David Dyte

Like Larson, Dyte cites "Getting set up in business mode" as the biggest challenge to the Kickstarter experience. He said he lucked out on estimating price and demand. "My advice to others would be not to let the red tape get you down," Dyte said. "I had my moments of thinking this would be dead before it even started, but everything sorted itself out eventually with a little persistence and encouragement from family and friends."

Mashable has devoted a number of posts to the topic of crowdfunding aimed at helping people select the right platform.