Monday, April 21, 2014

Four Common Denominators Of Successful Stock Photographers

Success, while elusive, is attainable as illustrated in this image of a businessman at the foot of an escalator leading to
One important common denominator of successful stock shooters includes the willingness to do whatever it takes....

Shooting Stock For A Living
I spend practically every waking moment, and even some non-waking moments, thinking about stock photography. I love shooting stock for a living, and I really love making a very good living at it. But as any stock shooter probably knows, our industry is under siege. There are too many of us, and we are making too many images.

The Common Denominators
In my never ending quest to figure out how to best insure that I can continue to
make a good living at stock photography, I am always trying to find out the common denominators in successful stock shooters. The primary trait that seems to be present in all of the top stock photographers I know, and even the ones I don’t know personally but do know of, is that of productivity.

1. Shooting Quality And Quantity
While the vast majority of stock photographers earn relatively small amounts, and most traditional stock shooters find themselves with declining incomes, there are still a few who are doing well, and even those who find their incomes consistently increasing. One thing these shooters all find a way to do is to produce a lot of work. This is true with micro stockers as well as traditional shooters.  I want to believe that quality trumps quantity, but that might just no longer be true. I think the new paradigm is quality and quantity…and you need both

How To Shoot Quality And Quantity
I know that about a year ago I set a goal for myself of twenty images a month. One photo a day for every weekday seemed like an impossible task for me, given the Photoshop intensive nature of my images, but by golly, I have actually exceeded that goal. But without setting that goal, and really committing to it, I probably wouldn’t be completing half that many stock photos. I certainly wasn’t before!

Understanding Strengths
I know one photographer who shoots three days a week, mostly studio work. Another stock photographer I know just shoots on location and has committed to a shoot a week. Each of us has to understand what our own strengths are and push ourselves to apply those strengths to producing images in a quantity and quality that will take us to where we want to be. 

2. Shooting For Market Needs
The stock shooters that I personally know that are doing the best are also shooting with specific market needs in mind. They are not shooting friends and neighbors on cell phones!  The agencies I work with, Blend and Getty, both offer information on what to shoot. Blend in particular (disclaimer…I am part owner) is offering a ton of guidance on what to shoot and how to shoot it. You don’t have to follow it to the letter, but I believe it is important to pay attention to their research.

Know The Competition
When I say “know the competition” I am referring to the competing images out there. I like to research what is out there before I commit to an image. If the concept is really well covered, then before I begin, if I decide to move forward with an idea, I make sure I have a twist that will make my image stand out.

3. The Extra Mile
While I have found that truly successful stock photographers all produce both quantity AND quality, and shoot for market needs, there are other factors at play as well, factors that should not be ignored. All of these shooters go the extra mile. I know one photographer, doing very well, who attributes some of his success to the use of facebook ads! In my own case I know that all my efforts at SEO play at least some role in supporting the licensing of my imagery. Yet another photographer has had stellar results from really focusing on perfecting his key wording at Alamy.  At least anecdotally, it seems to me that virtually all of the stock shooters doing well are in some way reaching beyond the conventional avenues of success.

4. Whatever It Takes
As I conclude this post it comes to me that another quality all of the stock shooters I know who are still making it are above all MOTIVATED! Because lets face it, the challenge is too difficult to overcome without one heck of a lot of effort, effort that can only come with a tremendous amount of desire. We all have to ask ourselves one big question: Are we willing to do whatever it takes to succeed?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Watermarks, Theft And Visibility

A giraffe stands on a cliff with his head above the clouds in an image about visibility, risk and awareness.
A giraffe stands on the edge of a cliff, his head above low lying clouds in an image illustrating concepts such as vision, risk and danger. I feel like this giraffe, embarking on a journey the outcome of which I cannot see clearly.

Watermarks And Theft
A few days ago I decided to check out 500 pix. Unfortunately, within the first five minutes of looking at 500 pix I came across an image that was doing rather well (a ranking of 97.5) that was, in effect, my image. That is, someone had stripped out an elephant sitting on a bench from one of my images and stripped it in to a room. There were quite a few comments congratulating the photographer on his creativity and so forth. I added a comment…that the image was my copyrighted photo and that he should take the image down immediately. A few minutes later he replied that the image was not mine and that he had downloaded the image for free off of the Internet.  I have seen the image floating around the net with a clumsy job of cloning out my watermark, but by stripping the elephant out of its original background the watermark, or area where it once was, was not included. BTW, the image was clearly mine with every wrinkle in the elephant’s skin matching my elephant.

Stock Photo Licensing And “Policing” Images
I clicked on the “Report This Image” button and fairly quickly 500 pix removed the offending page. 500 Pix is now selling stock photos. It strikes me that they may have their hands full policing the site…and dealing with model releases. I guess we shall see. In the meantime, aside from being steamed, I am wrestling with this whole Internet theft and watermarking issue.

Visibility Or Recognition?
In this new world of social media and sharing photos we can garner much more attention with minimal or no watermarks, but it sure opens up our imagery to theft. So what is better, to go for visibility and recognition, or try to maximize the protection of your imagery with large and intrusive watermarks? Emotionally I want to try and stop the theft, but logically I think it is probably better for one’s career to go for the visibility. If you take it to the extreme, you can totally prevent theft by never showing your work at all. And when your images are stolen, I suspect there really isn’t that much damage done financially to individual photographers (hey…don’t flame me for saying that), though collectively there sure is a lot of money being left on the table! Ultimately, if someone steals the image I get nothing, if they don’t steal I get nothing, but it they share it there may be profit for me in increased links, web traffic and visibility.

Benefits Of Recognition
Recognition works for us in multiple ways. With sufficient visibility it makes it much more likely your work will find those legitimate users with the money to license imagery, it certainly increases the odds of getting assignments, and it helps insure that you get the proper credit for your style or treatment of photography. When an art director or designer sees your portfolio, if they are already aware of you from other sources (think Internet), then they are much more likely to be appreciative and receptive to your book. If you are trying to earn money it is better to be known than unknown. So for now, I am going to reduce the size of my watermarks (I use © so that people know where to go to license the image if they are legitimate licensors) and see what happens.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stock Photo Showcase: Melting Pot to Patriotism to Immigration Issues

This image of the American Flag combined with a background of faces is great for illustrating concepts such as social media connections, demographics and immigration issues.
This versatile image illustrates concepts ranging from social media to immigration issues, to the U. S. as a melting pot.

America As A Melting Pot
An American Flag is juxtaposed over a sea of faces in this stock photo I just created. I like it so much I just had to share it on my blog! If there ever was an image that says the “melting pot” of the United States, this is it! The composite montage of faces includes approximately 250 model-released portraits. While the ethnic diversity says melting pot, the image also can illustrate a wide range of concepts.

Social Media And Networking Photos
This is definitely a social media image and it is showing the “tribe” or “community” that is America. These Americans are linked to each other in a variety of ways and certainly social networking across the Internet is an important part of the linking. Too bad this image wasn’t around when AOL got started…it would have been perfect!

As previously mentioned, this is an image about diversity. But it is more than just ethnic diversity, the populace pictured has a wide range of ages and, of course, is fairly well gender balanced (though I actually didn’t count…I am just assuming).

Demographics, Immigration and Politics
This can also be used to indicate demographics both for advertisements and editorial uses.  I can see the image being used by political parties and politicians as well as by any company that wants to indicate the wide acceptance of their products and services across America. Using the American flag with a wide and diverse range of people certainly makes the image a great one for issues around patriotism, immigration and even voter registration!

Creating A Social Media Photo
It took me at least a day’s worth of work just moving the individual portraits around in Photoshop to create the background montage. I then photographed an American Flag in my studio and used Photoshop to lay it over the portrait background. I spent at least another hour trying different things from opacity changes, to mode changes, to mask versions and finally settled on this. At this point I don’t remember exactly what the solution was. I could go back and look at the layered file, but naw, I’m just too lazy to do that now!

Blend Images And A Ton Of Work!

I have uploaded the image to Blend Images, a process that actually took longer than it does for me to create most of my montage images! I spent six hours uploading and editing model releases…arrgh! Blend has a very easy and efficient upload portal, but just doing the repetitive work of finding all the releases (another couple of hours work) scattered over several hard drives, and then uploading them one by one and so forth, was taxing to say the least. But hay, I have a good feeling about this image and I think it will all have been worth it!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Getty Images Free Photos With A Catch!

Sea monster tentacles reach out of a computer monitor attempting to snare a businessman seated at his computer.
Getty Images' new embed program offers free photos but with a catch!

Getty Images “Embed” Program
I have had a number of requests to comment on Getty’s “Embed Program”, and while I am no expert, I will at least share a few thoughts. The gist of the program is that people are now free to use most of the photos handled by Getty Images for non-commercial use by using provided embed code. The photos remain on the Getty servers (an important aspect as we shall see).

Getty, ShutterStock And Perceived Value
Who knows what all is behind this decision, but I think a big part of it may be motivated by Getty’s need to increase it’s perceived value to investors. The Carlyle Group paid over 3 billion dollars for Getty just to see Getty’s market share continually loose ground to ShutterStock. From what I hear, the only way for the Carlyle group to get their money back (let alone make a profit) is to take Getty public, and for that to happen Getty has to look good to investors. This program takes Getty beyond just selling stock and into the realms of advertising media, target advertising and data mining.

Getty, Data Mining, And Targeted Advertising
Getty, through this program, will have the ability to track the images putting them into the “Data Mining” business. They can also push out advertising into the images an ability that puts them into the business of selling advertising…specifically targeted advertising. Obviously this business model looks a lot more promising to investors than just selling stock photos does. It is  also important to realize that with the push of a button Getty Images can delete all those images from where ever they have been embedded, or even switch the photos!

Logos, Credit Lines And Image Theft
Some of the problems I am hearing about the program seem pretty legitimate. The pictures cannot be resized and come with a pretty large Getty logo and credit lines. It seems to me that bloggers and others who are used to stealing images will just keep on doing that. It is still easier to do a right click and steal the image…and by stealing the photos instead of using the embed code, the infringer has the ability to resize the images, avoid being tracked by Getty, and avoid having to display Getty logos and credit lines. There is also the unpleasant possibility that Getty could eliminate the photos showing up that would then leave broken links on the user’s site…not pretty! In fact, I had planned to use the Getty imbed code on one of my own images for this blog, but I realized that using a photo that way would not be as good for my own blog traffic as using an image that I in fact host. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

Non-Commercial Use Licenses
I personally would much rather that Getty offer “Non Commercial Use” licenses for small fees in the neighborhood of a dollar or so, and only for RF images, something like what apple has done for music. That would reinforce the idea that images are meant to be paid for and to add at least some revenue to photographer’s pockets!

Revenue Sharing
Yes, if Getty manages to get revenue through pushing ads out onto embedded content we photographers get to share in that, and from what I can understand it will be at the same royalty rates indicated in our contracts (disclaimer…I am not a lawyer and that is just my opinion). However, I really can’t see that amount being significant for individual photographers. Then there is the question of whether photographers would share in the revenue made by Getty if they sell the results of their data mining.

Impact On Photographers
In fact, I can’t really see how this development has much impact at all on photographers. Everyone is already stealing our images like crazy with little or no consequences, and I can’t see why anyone would use the Getty embed program.  My biggest takeaway is that it is one more step in the perception of photography being free for anyone to steal and use as they wish.

Links To More Information:

Sean Locke has a very in depth analysis.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Stock Photos, Leveraging Assets And An Email Campaign

An elephant at the bar...and an email campaign to promote my stock photography.

Leveraging Assets
I often find myself wondering why the world needs any more stock photos, and lamenting the fact that so many of my images have disappeared both in terms of visibility and in terms of sales.  It has occurred to me, frequently, that I might be better off leveraging those old assets (stock photos) rather than just creating new ones. I have actually been working to that end in my efforts to get more traffic to my website where almost all of my images can be found. But I have decided to up the ante a bit by actually promoting my work. To that end I have signed up with AgencyAccess and have put together an email campaign for the next year. I actually made my first mailing a few days ago…I sent out 4700 emails to mostly art directors and art producers with ad agencies, in house art departments, and a smattering of magazines. I will report the results in my next blog post and will report my overall progress here as things develop.

Focusing On Humorous Animals
As part of this same project I have also changed my website a bit. I have focused the home page gallery and the portfolio section on conceptual and humorous animal imagery. If some one searches using the search window or the “Stock/Categories” all of my imagery is available. Probably 90% of my images are handled by agencies, primarily Blend Images (of which I am a part owner) and Getty but also with SuperStock and Corbis. It is a slow process, but I am linking each image to the agency that handles the work. If that linking has not been done yet then when someone inquires about licensing an image the query comes to me, otherwise the interested party ends up at that particular image on the stock agencies site. I am also having a light box added but that may take another week or two to be implemented.

Google Image Search
The vast majority of people finding my images on the Internet don’t end up on my home page but on the individual picture page via a Google image search.  But I think by focusing my home page on the funny animal pictures I can get more links that should raise up my imagery as a body of work higher in the search order of the various search engines. At least I hope so!

Licensing And Assignments
In the worst case scenario I will be out a couple of thousand dollars, I will know one more thing that doesn’t work, and I will be better able to focus on finding what does work. On the possible (and I hope probable) up side I hope to get some good licenses and perhaps even an assignment that fits my situation. In addition, if more people come to my site, find images they are interested in, and then go on to license them from an agency, then those images will also start to rank higher in the agency searches as well…hey…at least the theory is good! I firmly believe that the biggest challenge facing photographers today is getting our work seen, and that sitting back and waiting to be found is not the best route to success.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

In Photography Attitude Is Everything

Image of Luka Esenko, dedicated photographer,shooting sunrise on Dixam Plateau in the Homhil Protected Area, Socatra island, Yemen.
Luka Esenko, one of tour leaders (along with Jeremy Woodhouse) shoots a sunrise on Socotra Island.

The Importance of Attitude
On my recent trip to Yemen and Socotra with Jeremy Woodhouse and Luka Esenko, I was reminded again of the importance of attitude. While travel can be great at exposing bad attitudes, and emphasizing the importance of a positive attitude, what was really brought to my attention on this trip was the importance of attitude in photography.

Believing You Can
They say that if you believe you can, or if you believe you cannot, you are probably right, and that is what I experience on this “adventure/travel” journey. A number of times we would find ourselves in a given place or situation and I would look around and think “nothing here to shoot” (don’t get me wrong, those times when I didn’t see the opportunities were the exception on a fabulous trip for photography). Then Jeremy and Luka would be shooting like crazy. Sometimes watching them would help me realize that there was indeed something worth shooting and I would dive in. Other times I would just shrug and stick with my assumption that any effort expended on my part would be a waste.

Impressive Photographs
Later, when I saw the results of what both Jeremy and Luka were getting I realized that they had indeed gotten some pretty impressive photographs…even to the point where I was a tad envious and kicking myself just a bit. Granted, I have a very mercenary outlook and often these beautiful images wouldn’t seem particularly saleable…but beauty for beauty’s own sake is still worthwhile, and I have also come to realize that pretty much anything can sell and that figuring out what will sell, or more accurately what won’t sell, is almost impossible!

Bad Attitudes And Failure
I remember once when shooting an annual report with a designer we arrived at the location and no sooner had we stepped out of our car than he began to moan that we were screwed, that there wasn’t anything worth shooting.  Now I had been to worse locations than that, shooting by myself for that very same designer, and he had always loved what I came back with. But that was not the case on this day. We did not get a single image that he like during the whole day’s shoot!  I don’t really know the intricacies of that whole dynamic, but I do believe that his bad attitude was a major part of why we failed to get our shot that day.

Taking On The Challenge
The next time I find myself camera in hand and thinking “nothing worth shooting here” I hope I remember to kick myself in the butt, change my attitude, and take on the challenge of finding or creating something beautiful no matter the circumstance.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Infographic On The Cameras Used To Shoot Stock

Amos Struck of the online stock industry magazine Stock Photo Secrets sent me this fun graphic about what gear shooters are using for stock. They polled 157,000 microstock shooters (Dreamstime Shooters I believe) to compile this information.

It has long been the standard answer among professional photographers, when asked which camera they use, that "It isn't the camera, its the photographer". While there is no doubt that more sophisticated cameras can offer advantages, there is still a lot of truth in that "stock" answer. Personally, I have shot stock with (not counting all the film cameras) a Leaf DCB I, Canon 1DS, 1DS MKII, 1DS MKIII, Canon 5D, Canon 5D MKII, Nikon D800, A Sony RX100 II, and, yes, my iPhone 4G.

At any rate, it is interesting to see what choices microstock shooters are making in terms of equipment!