Monday, January 26, 2015

In Appreciation Of Blend Images Stock Agency

A life ring of social media portaits sales out through stormy skies in a stock photo about social networking as a resource and online communities as support groups.
This photo created for Blend Images could well be a metaphor for the support and community offered by a new breed of stock agency.

­­In Appreciation Of Blend Images
Blend has just announced their spring creative meeting that will take place in Miami this April. It will be a multi-day affair with an emphasis on motion stock, but still plenty of information on stills and the industry in general. The details are still being worked out. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to these events. It is truly wonderful to get together with my “Blend” family, catch up on everyone, and be informed and inspired about our industry.

A Photographer-Centric Stock Agency
Blend is the brainchild of Rick Leckrone (Blend’s CEO) who pulled together twenty-four top stock shooters to create a photographer-centric stock agency (disclaimer here…as one of the founding members I am biased in favor of Blend Images!). The agency began with a specialization in ethnically-diverse content, but has evolved to offer an ever increasingly wide range of material. While originally a content aggregator offering RF sales through a wide group of distributors (including Getty and Corbis), Blend went on to pioneer RM images available through numerous distributors and has also added a direct sales component.

Maximum Image Visibility
While there is no denying the dominant (if slipping) position in traditional stock of such agencies as Getty and Corbis, there is, more than ever, a strong case to be made for the importance of gaining maximum visibility for one’s images as well as the revenue potential of the countless “non-traditional” (read microstock) stock photography audience. With Blend I get far more eyeballs on my imagery than I would with just Getty or Corbis and I get market penetration into the microstock audience as well. With Blend I can upload my images once and have them seen virtually everywhere. If one of my images gets buried on a Getty search, it still has a chance to be seen on other sites and visa versa.

A Bigger Pie
Yes, the slice of the pie is smaller with a Blend/Getty, Blend/Fotolia or Blend/Whomever sale, but the pie is much larger! In the case of a Blend direct sale a Blend photographer stands to earn five times as much as a sale through most other distributors. Plus, having images at Blend provides the safety of diversity and the ability to benefit from a nimble agency that is well positioned to take advantage of changes within the industry.

Photographer Support
Photographer support is much better as well. You can actually have a relationship with your art director (I communicate with mine on almost a daily basis), you can pick up the phone and talk to a human being, you get educational webinars, creative meetings, and access to more research than I have ever experienced with any of the traditional agencies. With Blend you become part of that afore mentioned community.

The Blend Staff
I would be remiss if I did not point out that every member of the Blend staff has always been responsive, friendly and helpful to me. Hey, to be able to call Blend and have a human being on the other end alone is great...but to have a human being who is attentive and can get things done...well, that is just plain awesome!

Success In Stock Photography
After all that, do I still contribute images to Getty? Of course I do. That is a door I am not anxious to close. But the vast majority of my images go to Blend. My own personal recipe for success in stock photography includes consistent production of high-value photos with Blend Images being the cornerstone of my distribution. Whether you shoot traditional or microstock it may well be worth your while to give Blend a closer look.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Is Stock Photography Dead?

A woman business executive is superimposed over a long road and looking ahead a clearing skies and an a sunrise indicating better times and success ahead.
A woman looks down a long road, under storm clouds and at clearing skies over a sunrise, towards better times and success in a stock photo that could well represent the stock photography industry.

Is Stock Photography Dead?
The death knell for stock photography is ringing loudly everywhere one turns, but is stock photography really dead… or dying? I don’t think so. Sure, the stock photography business is in transition with a lot of challenges for those attempting to make a living at it, but there are some good developments as well. With the advent of microstock, and the proliferation of imagery, prices have plummeted, but recently there has been some evidence of increasing prices for curated collections. Too, there are still plenty of examples of high prices being paid for stock photos. Agencies are springing up that are paying the content creators a larger percentage of the licensing fees as well. Finally, there are some more photography-friendly agencies coming along that are offering more guidance and support for photographers.

Sales That Pay The Bills
In my own experience I continue to see substantial sales from such venerable agencies as Getty and Corbis and some excellent sales from Blend Images as well. Just last month I had a $17,000.00 (gross) sale from Getty, a $6,000.00 sale and several sales in the $1,000.00 range, not to mention a plethora of lower priced sales. Last night I had a direct sale through Blend Images for $1308.00, and the week before I had a Blend Images sale for $3500.00 and another one for $1223.00. Two weeks ago a friend of mine had a $40,000.00 Blend sale! Those really big sales are kind of like hitting the lottery and while they certainly are fun, it is the hundreds of smaller repeat sales that pay the bills. There are still plenty of clients willing to pay a decent amount for the right image.

Photographer Friendly Agencies
Also good news for photographers is the trend of new photographer-friendly agencies. Blend (disclaimer…I am a part owner of Blend), for example, offers a ton of help for photographers from intimate art direction to market research to royalty rates to 50%. A big plus for Blend is the wide distribution they offer ranging from Getty & Corbis to Masterfile, SuperStock, Gallery Stock and many others. Gallery stock has caught my eye because of the consistently high sales they make for me (through Blend Images). Stocksy is another interesting agency that has a co-op approach, a high royalty rate, higher prices than microstock, and is off to a fast start.

Making A Living With Stock Photography
Don’t get me wrong, making a living with stock photography isn’t easy, but making a living, making a very good living, and having a wonderful lifestyle as part of the bargain is still possible. Success requires knowing what will sell, consistent and high-level production, and choosing the right distribution. Oh yeah, and a boat load of perseverance! ­

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Strategy For Success In Photography

A crowd of people press their faces against the glass of window peering in excitedly in a concept stock photo about popularity, success and ideas.
This stock image about popularity and excitement required eleven models and hours of Photoshop time, but has a high chance of success because it stands out from the crowd.

A Strategy For A Successful Photography Career
One strategy that I think is a no-brainer for photographers wishing to pursue a career in photography is to constantly shoot for your portfolio…and put those images into stock. Create imagery that speaks to you at the highest level you can, and then make those images work for you not just by helping you get assignments, but by earning income as well.

A Market Hungry For Great Imagery
Such a strategy has some pretty obvious benefits. Despite the insane over-supply of stock photography, the market is still hungry for great images…and a great image will usually find a buyer in stock. Never underestimate the creativity of art directors, designers and photo editors in utilizing imagery. While not every image is going to do well in stock I believe that if one consistently puts innovative imagery into the stock arena the rewards will be well worth the effort.

Passionate Imagery And Revenue Generation
I have learned from my own experience that some pretty “out there” images can actually generate significant revenue. If you are creating photography that you are passionate about that passion will show through and help raise your stock imagery above the vast morass of mediocrity.

Getting Noticed
Further, the more unique and exciting your images are the more likely you will be noticed, and the more those images are seen the better. Most photographers that are long-term stock shooters that I know, myself included, have had the experience of getting assignments from art buyers and such who have seen our stock images and tracked us down. It happens quite often, which by the way, is another reason you really want to just put great imagery into the stock pipelines.

Great Images, Financial Success And Creative Satisfaction
I have had great success at creating images that require either a large financial investment (renting a lion for example) or required a huge time investment in terms of post-production (happens to me all the time). At least for me, investing in creating “portfolio” images has been a smart strategy for stock. On top of that, creating top-notch images is way more satisfying creatively. I would go nuts if I just churned out the same old images day after day.

The More Great Images The More Success
Not every image shot for your book will be a commercial success in stock, but it doesn’t have to be. Like everything else in life 80% of your income will likely be generated by 20% of your imagery, but the more of those awesome and unique images you have out there being seen the more success you will have. Another thing I have learned is that I never know which of those images will fall into that 20%, so I just think up those images, do them, get them out there…then start in on the next.

Supplementary Images
Sure, I supplement those more challenging images with ones that I believe will sell and are simple and inexpensive to create…but my heart is in the images that are portfolio quality and by and large those are the images that have driven my success in stock.

Shoot For Your Book And Put Your Images To Work
To sum it up, shooting for your book or portfolio provides creative satisfaction and increases the chances of having imagery that will stand out from the crowd. Putting those images into stock increases your visibility and provides income…often for a long, long time. It is simply a no brainer for anyone pursuing a career in photography.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Six Reasons To Watermark Your Photos

A butler rolls out a red carpet in a metaphorical photo for service of the highest order.
By including a watermark on you images you are providing a service to help people find more of your work either for visual enjoyment or licensing.

1.              To make it easy for interested parties to license your imagery. 
As a matter of fact, that is what got me interested in putting together this post. Twice in the last week I have had unsolicited thanks from people who found my images on the Internet (yes, there are plenty of people and companies that would rather license images than steal them) and knew how to contact me in order to license the work. My watermark is © so ALMOST anyone can track me down. These two people who did find me were thrilled that I had watermarked my images!

2.              To make it easy for interested parties to find more of your work. Okay, so maybe someone does see an image of yours, doesn’t really need to license that particular image, but either loves it and wants to see more, or loves it and is hoping there is more work in the same style that does suit their needs…and if you watermark your images you are doing them a favor. So watermark your images as a gift to others…a gift for those who really do appreciate your work!

3.              Because you are PROUD of your work! You are proud of your work, right?

4.              If it was good enough for Picasso, Rembrandt, and Matisse it is good enough for you. It not only makes sense to watermark your work, but it has been the norm for hundreds of years! Artists have been signing their work since before the Renaissance.

5.             To discourage others from taking credit for your work.
A few weeks ago while perusing 500px I came across an image of mine that someone else was claiming credit for. Not only that, he had dozens of compliments and people giving kudos for the image.  Maybe it is just my ego, but when I see someone else getting compliments for something I have done I find it very irritating! When I sent him a notice to take the image down he told me that it wasn’t my image, that he had found it for free on the Internet. But it WAS my image…posted years ago before I started watermarking my work. This may still happen even if you do watermark your images (I have seen many of my own images with my own watermark sometimes clumsily Photoshopped out)…but it will happen less often! Come to think of it, there are a number of sites out there offering to sell my images some of which even leave my watermark on the files. Oh well….

6.              To help establish that there is VALUE to photography. Watermarking your photos doesn’t just help you, but also helps out photographers everywhere! The value of photography is under attack these days. One thing that each of us photographers can do to help people realize that photography does have value is to watermark our images. If you don’t do it for yourself, then do it for the all the other photographers who do care about the value of their work!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Latest Thoughts On Stock Photo Success

"Hey, come buy my stock photos!" I used myself as a model in this social media networking image.

A Chat With An Art Director
I had a nice chat with an Art Director friend of mine a couple of days ago. She often has to search for stock and related to me how much more difficult it is to find good material.  Considering how much “material” has been uploaded in the last few years it is very interesting to hear that.  It seems that the road to success is simply figuring out what is “good material”…and how to get it seen.

Good Material
Regarding the first part, figuring out what is “good material”…I believe that good images, even great images, have the same criteria they have always had. Some of the photographers that I am in regular touch with do report good and even increasing sales. While I am not at liberty to just say who they are and show you their work, I can tell you that the work itself can range from remarkable to actually fairly pedestrian. Even some of my unremarkable images sell well. What makes those images sell is that they solve a problem for someone in need of the right image.

Getting Your Work Seen
The second part…getting your work seen, is in my opinion is the more challenging  part of the equation.  I have to point out here that I am totally unfamiliar with how photographers can increase their visibility on the microstock sites, but I believe there things they can do within the sites themselves (maybe one of you micro guys can jump in here…). I do know that Jon Boyes has seemingly mastered the art of getting his work very visible at Alamy, but for most traditional stock agencies about all we can do is produce the best work we can, drive more traffic via our own outside efforts, and hope that the quality of those images carries them higher in the search algorithms. 

Web Sites And Social Media
As I mentioned above, we can utilize our web sites and social media to gain visibility, and to drive more traffic to our images on the agency sites thereby moving those images up in the searches. For me, at least in terms of my website, the question is whether my time is better spent working at SEO and participating in social media, or in making new images. While I can only speculate, I am guessing that in the short term I would be better off just making new images, but am becoming ever more convinced that in the long run the benefits of a website that truly generates traffic will prove to have been the smart course to take. Yesterday I got a request for four images for a calendar and today a request for an image for a mural and another request for an image for a brochure. I also had about twenty people find my images follow the links to the agencies that handle those images. How many will actually license the images I don’t know, but since I have started my efforts to drive traffic to my site I have seen a slow but steady growth in stock requests.

The Social Media Question
Then there is that social media question. Again, I have no doubt that social media can drive traffic to one’s site…in three weeks of active participation the percentage of traffic to my site coming from social media has risen from 1.2 percent to 3.3 percent.  Baby steps to be sure, but steps none-the-less. Social media can work in other ways too…such as generating assignments. But for us stock photographers it sure seems like an uphill battle! Hey, but I forgot to mention, I actually made a stock  sale through a facebook request a couple of days ago! Another plus for social media, a Getty photographer I know who has seen his income consistently grow attributes it in part to targeted facebook ads he is doing.  Food for thought!

A Consistent Long-Term Approach
I think part of the trick is to develop a routine such as allotting fifteen minutes each morning to participating. Of course, it is important to know who your audience is and which social media sites they frequent and then focus your attention on those sites. But like everything else in this business, success comes through a consistent, long-term approach. I think the whole thing is a pain in the butt, but I don’t intend to wake up one day and realize I can’t make a living with what I love to do. I always remember that I have to be willing to do whatever it takes.

Update on Agency Access E Mail Campaign
So I did a second email blast using Agency Access. I sent out 4,500 emails. Six hundred and twenty were opened, nineteen went to my website (oddly enough exactly the same number as the first time)…and it looks like I am getting an assignment out it. Cool!

Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Social Media Madness

A group of people climb clamor to see something on one man's smart phone in a business lobby.
The challenge of social media for me is effectively using it to get more "eyeballs" on my work.

Social Media Challenge
So I have spent the last few weeks immersing myself in Social Media. Geez, maybe I am just to old for this stuff…but I am having a challenging time figuring it all out. Here is what my experience is telling me at this point.

Participation And Time Investment
The first thing that I THINK I have learned is that the key to social media is primarily one of participation. Unfortunately, participation takes time! It takes time every day, and I believe that it requires a consistent time investment over a long period. Hmmm…kind of sounds like everything else in life, doesn’t it!

Picking Your Battles
Secondly, you have to pick your battles! There are so many social media options now that it doesn’t seem realistic to try and do them all…so you need to pick the ones that will work best for your particular business…and for your sensibilities…and good luck with that!

Google Plus
I am probably wrong about this, but it appears that Google Plus is mostly photographers looking at photography. While there are indications that being active on Google Plus will increase your SEO, who really knows outside the hallowed halls of Google?  I am, however, putting daily time in to Google Plus because, well, its Google.

Instagram, in which I am yet to begin really posting to, appears to be an important option…a lot of people have told me I HAVE to be on it.  But I can’t seem to get started on it, and I have a hard time believing that I can get a lot of traction with my kind of work. Thomas Hawk believes it is a huge advantage to get in on the ground floor with social media sites…but the ground floor with Instagram is LOOONG gone. Oh yeah, and it is so mobile device centric that to post the kind of image I do requires a work around...and I hate work arounds!

Pinterest actually seems interesting to me. In the last two weeks I have seen my social media generated traffic to my website increase from 1.2% to 2.8% and that increase is pretty much due to Pinterest. I recall seeing some statistics indicating that people who hang out at Pinterest actually spend money. I can see that. You go to Pinterest to find ideas for home remodeling, wardrobe purchases and so forth…and maybe even to find photography for wall d├ęcor? If art directors and designers are looking for ideas and inspiration…I can see benefit in that. Of course, one must also take into account the demographic...and since Pinterest is heavily weighted towards women...perhaps it is a great place to promote my greeting card images! Anyway, at this point most of my efforts are going in to Pinterest…and I am even enjoying it a little bit (heaven forbid).

With Twitter I am tweeting my blog posts…and the Blend blog when I like its material…but nothing else. I guess with Twitter I am doing the equivalent of keeping a toe in the water. Whether I will dive in any deeper remains to be seen. I seem to be close to my limit with Google Plus and Pinterest.

Oh yeah, Facebook. Uh, you know, they are really diligent at reminding me to post on my fan pages…something I virtually never do. Oh well. I do look at my (what do you call it, my personal page?) every couple of days or so, though I also have two fan pages...the whole relationship of which I have a hard time understanding! I did check in with a photographer I know who posts a lot and has a humongous number of likes, fans and stuff…and he reports being unaware of any benefit to his business from all that (though I hear wedding and portrait photographers can do well with facebook). Then there is the fact that facebook only shows about 5% of your followers your posts unless you are greasing their palms... I do plan on "sharing" more images on my facebook pages via links from my site and Blend that will represent a small increase in efforts.

I did post for a while to Tumbler…but it didn’t provide me with the overnight success I needed to sustain the effort. Plus I have heard that Tumblr is not indexed by Google...and driving traffic to my website is the primary goal of all of my social media efforts.

I looked at 500px but had the bad experience of seeing someone else claiming my work for his own, which kinda soured me on that. That has been pretty much my efforts over the past few weeks.

Social Media, Success And Real Life
We have all heard of the social media success stories…and they are out there just like the success stories from promo pieces, cool websites, email blasts and source books.  I think such successes are relatively rare in “real life”. I think that because success for most of us will only come with a prolonged effort, it is important to put your time into whatever avenues of visibility are most palatable for you. It would be a shame for me to bust my butt for six months really working social media and then quit (invariably just before success came).

Making Images And The Easy Way Out
Another question that comes up for me frequently is whether I wouldn’t be better off just doing my thing making images and getting them into the market. But then I keep thinking that is the easy way out and also that it is dangerous to stick you head in the sand in the face of change.  So onward I will press and experiment till I find my own “sweet spot” in social media.

What Are Your Thoughts?
And finally, I would love to hear from all of you what your thoughts and experiences are with social media in regards to your photography businesses. There is no doubt in my mind that a lot of people reading this blog will know a heck of a lot more about how to incorporate social media into a photography business and we can all learn a bit more if everyone shares their insights.

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?