Please tell us about yourself, your background, and your current business.
I’m Masa Ushioda, the owner and a contributing photographer of the highly specialized boutique stock photo agency, Blue Planet Archive.
I specialize in photographing large marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, and sharks around the world.
What are all the components of your online presence now? (website, social media, other profiles)
Website is the main focus of my business because we mainly deal with other business entities (B2B), such as publishers, magazines, newspapers, TV networks and production companies, ad agencies, museums, aquariums, etc., around the globe.
We use social media essentially to recruit and connect with photographers and artists. We haven’t been very active on our social platforms because we have too many images waiting to be processed for our online library, but that doesn’t mean we are not accepting new photographers.
If you think you have the high-quality wildlife images that would knock my socks off, please contact me!
How do you balance personal life with running a photography business? And do you also make time for personal photography projects?
I’m a father of three little children, and it has been very challenging to manage my time between my business and my family. Slowly but surely, I am rebooting my own photography projects as they grow up and become able to join my photography excursions around the sea.
What has been your business’s biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
Many small agencies have been struggling to have a functional and truly useful website. Small agencies have 100 times more pictures than an individual photographer yet have similar resources to run the business. We weren’t the exception until we partnered with Alex. It is essential to choose your web developer to meet your budget and needs.
Where is the photography industry going, in your opinion? And what can photographers or agencies in your niche do to differentiate themselves?
Unfortunately, the downward pressure on licensing fees will continue, and we all have to learn to live with it or quit in extreme cases. Since the arrival of the DSLR, photography has gotten so much easier for everyone. In other words, the industry got so much more competitive. You have to have a specialty or two to stand out in the crowd.
It was a pleasure working with you directly on building your Blue Planet Archive website. What effects did the websites have on your business so far?
The new website received many, many positive comments from our existing clients and new clients alike. Once I give our clients some basic information on searching, purchasing, and downloading images, they can help themselves at our website.
Your site offers multiple types of prints and licenses. What’s your experience with selling them and what feedback have you received from customers?
Photoshelter offers multiple print vendors, and we have been using the White House Custom Colours (WHCC) for over a decade. Their print quality and color matching capability are phenomenal. They always WOW our print buyers.
As for the licenses, we offer the personal use license and commercial RM or RF licensing. They are straightforward, and many purchase the license online.
What role does your blog play in your business? Has it helped you in any way?
Our blog is a vital part of our website. We announce new additions, new stories, etc. We use it to share our news as well as to share insights on animals and photography expertise. It is challenging to keep up with, but our blog adds more depth to our informative website. In other words, it will improve search engine discoverability.
What social media platforms do you use, and how do you find time to manage these accounts? How have they helped your business so far?
Instagram is proven to be the best social media platform for photographers. We receive a fair amount of inquiries via Instagram, not only from our own but also from each photographer we represent.
Many solo photographers are looking to transition more from services to products (prints, books, workshops, photo tours, etc.) Do you have any advice for them?
Running workshops and photo tours are very viable photo businesses. Many of my photographers make a living by doing that. These are dream jobs for many. I often get asked to run a photo tour to photograph whales, dolphins, and sharks off Hawaii, which is my specialty. In any case, you need to have your specialty area – the niche. People will follow if you are an expert at something.
What is your least favorite aspect of managing your photography business?
Accounting and tax. It is tedious, boring and not very fun. Maybe it’s just me. Many people love to count money 😂 , but I don’t. I would rather be outdoors, swimming with large marine animals and shooting pictures.
What inspires you? (now, in the industry)
I made a liveaboard dive trip to an uninhabited, remote island in Indonesia with my first camera, Nikonos V when I was a freshman in college. The pristine coral reef impressed me so much and inspired me to document the underwater world. I haven’t looked back ever since.
What do you think are the qualities of an effective photography website in general?
Simple & easy to navigate, but functional. I have seen many beautiful photography websites over the years, but not many are like that.
In your experience, what mistakes are people usually making on their photography sites?
Putting too many nav menus, displaying mediocre images, too many words, showing only small size images and tiny thumbnail images, etc., to list a few.
What website metrics do you track and what informed decisions do you take based on them?
We use Google Analytics and Google Ads to monitor our website. They are very useful to analyze our ads’ effectiveness and helps discover any website bugs that we need to fix.
What are your plans for improving your site and growing your photo business in the next year?
We plan to keep up with the blog post 😅 , create more in-depth galleries with informative text about the subjects, increase ads and email & Instagram marketing.
In this crowded market, how do you avoid getting stuck in the “background” and start reaching the “foreground” of your target audience?
Unless you have a mega advertising budget, it comes down to time and effort to write quality content with specialized WOW images.
Quick-fire round (shorten answers as much as possible):
What’s one thing you’re deeply proud of — but would never put on your résumé?
Survived many man-eating shark and mega whale dives and came up with many beautiful images.
How would YOU fix the economy? (as if this wasn’t difficult enough, please limit this to 10 words! 😃)
Tax the rich.
How many countries have you visited (and which one did you like the LEAST)?
Maybe 8 countries – I liked them all.
Give us a dose of nostalgia: What was your first camera?
YOLO – You only live once! (my motto 😂)
Great having you on ForegroundWeb, thanks for taking the time. Where can people get in touch with you if needed?
Owner | Contributing Photographer
Blue Planet Archive LLC (formerly SeaPics)
Animal & Nature Image Specialist Agency
Royalty-Free & Rights-Managed Stock Photos