Head-to-head with Mike Betts at Photocrowd

Photocrowd, a second-floor resident of OCFI, was started by ex-photographer Mike Betts. We spoke to him about the company and what it does.

Photocrowd’s vision is to be the best online platform to run photo contests worldwide. The company must be doing something right as it now has a community of 120,000 photographers, which is growing by around 6000/month. About ten percent of this community is professional, a quarter semi-professional and the remainder are good amateurs. It has global reach too, with members in over 160 countries, with about half in the UK and twenty percent in the States.

Photocrowd is on a mission to rethink the humble photo contest. It runs competitions for partners – manufacturers of photography equipment, camera magazines, galleries and simply any company that wants to promote themselves and engage photographers. Mike says: “We’ve got some strong links with the likes of Red Bull, Olympus, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards.”

Competition subjects vary widely but there’s usually a hook: they’re often run to tie-in with a new product launch, an exhibition or a particular magazine feature. Judging is through the online community. Mike explains: “Photocrowd competitions harness the opinion of the crowd, with photographers rating each other’s images. This generates an impressive seven million votes per month. In fact, the Amateur Photographer of the Year Awards had 2.1m votes cast last year,” he adds.

As well as crowd ratings, competitions are judged by expert panels, including big names like wildlife photographer Chris Packham and Magnum photographer Martin Parr. The crowd-selected winning images are then shown alongside the expert judge’s winning images and, Mike says; “The comparison between the two is one of the things that Photocrowd users really enjoy and it stimulates a lot of conversation on the website.”

Aside from the professional competitions, there are those run by the Photocrowd community. Mike says; “These tend to throw up the most interesting topics like ‘Washing Lines of the World’ or ‘I Pulled Over For This’.” Such quirky subjects attracted a lot of interest in the community. You can see the results here: www.photocrowd.com/wlotw/

Mike says, “Photocrowd is what we call a ‘free-mium’ site. You can join and take part for free but if you want greater access to the competitions or the number of photos you can enter then you can buy this.” Some of the awards are quite prestigious – like Bird Photographer of the Year, or Amateur Photographer of the Year, which is now in its 27th year, and had nine thousand entrants and over £10,000 in prize money in 2017. And, what’s more, winners tend to get exposure that can’t be bought on sites like The Guardian, Huffington Post and The Daily Mail. Not bad, eh?

Mike is himself an ex-professional photographer: he worked in London doing still life and architectural photography – including the cover shots for the 2012 Olympics bid. When he came to Oxford, he ran a DSLR workshop in collaboration with the Ashmolean. Students were motivated by the regular assignments where their images were given feedback by tutors and peers. But when they looked for a site that offered this kind of valuable learning experience online, they couldn’t find anything and Photocrowd was born. As with many entrepreneurs, Mike started his company in his back bedroom but he now employs a team of seven staff and the focus is on competitions rather than assignments.

Challenges for 2018? An app might be on the cards to engage a whole new generation of budding photographers…how brilliant would that be!

If you want to find out more about Photocrowd, visit: https://www.photocrowd.com

If you’d like to be interviewed for our head-to-head series, email Georgina Matthews on [email protected]