Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Seeing Your Photo Business With Fresh Eyes

Sometimes, to see the way forward for your business, it helps to have a fresh perspective.

Peeling Bananas
For fifty some years I have been peeling bananas. It is often a struggle. I look for anything to get a starting cut into the skin near the stem so that I can start the peeling process without smushing (come on,  that has to be a legitimate word…), the fruit. I have tried everything from a fingernail to a key, but knives work best.

Start From The Other In
I recently watched a short video on the Internet. It was about how to peel a banana.  I watched for amusement, as I already know how to perform that particular task. Uh, I thought I knew how to peel a banana. The more efficient way to free the banana from its skin is mind-boggling simple. Start from the other end!  OMG, it works so much better!

Tools, Techniques And Pain Points
I remember once, giving a demonstration at Photo Plus in New York on Photoshop. At the end of my presentation one of the people approaching me at the podium was a man who identified himself as one of the engineers for Photoshop. He said he would love to have a talk with me about my “Pain Points”, areas where I was continuing to use tools and techniques I had learned in Photoshop years earlier, and was continuing to use despite the fact that there were new and better tools and techniques. Geez, and I was passing on these “pain points” to my audience. Embarrassment!

Preconceptions, Old Habits And Fresh Eyes
OK, where am I missing other solutions to problems hiding in plain site? Where in my business am I being a slave to preconceptions and old habits?  What are the pain points in my photography business? Perhaps more importantly, how do look at my business and at my photography through fresh eyes that I might see what these pain points are? How can I re-frame my business and and be sure I am on course for my future plans.

A Different Perspective
One way to look at one’s business through “fresh eyes” is to have someone else look at your business. A little over a year ago I had my brother do just that. The fact that he was totally un-involved in the photography world gave him the ability to look at my business from a totally different perspective…and it radically altered the thrust of my efforts.  It was his observations that pointed out to me the wisdom of embarking on an Internet-centric path of SEO (search engine optimization), creating an online image database, and adding content ranging from articles and interviews to this photo blog.

An Open Mind And Objective Evalutation
If you know someone in a different line of work, who you respect, it might be a good idea to have them review your business and be open to what they might come up with. Of course, you also need to utilize your own knowledge and determine what feedback is actually of use. The tricky part is having an open mind, being able to use objectively evaluate the feedback, and incorporating any new ideas into your business.

Suggestions From Within The Photo Industry
I also welcome suggestions from those within our photo industry. It was at the suggestion, maybe I should say urging, of two of my fellow photographers, Jack Hollingsworth and Shalom Ormsby, that I began my blog centered around stock photography. I routinely seek out the opinions and ideas of my fellow shooters, but always keeping in mind that it is up to me to determine when those suggestions and ideas are germane to my own business approach. Most of the feedback I get I have either already incorporated, or have decided for one reason or another that it doesn’t work for me. The hardest part for me, as I mentioned earlier, is keeping an open mind.  Those suggestions that I have taken to heart and incorporated into my work have made a huge difference in my approach over the last year. As to how successful this new course will be, only time will tell.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Photography And The Future: Advice For The Road Ahead

The road ahead for stock photographers lies under storm clouds, but are those rays of optimsim and future success awaiting us?

I have compiled the advice offered to photographers from the photographers, CEOs, agency owners, art directors, designers, photo researchers and others who I have interviewed over the last year:

Jack Hollingsworth, Stock Photographer, Blend Images Co-Founder, Social Media & Photography Consultant

The money is in getting the photography in front of the consumer.

Marc Romanelli, Stock Photographer (Stills And Motion)

I choose to shoot what I know, shoot what feels right, diversify by shooting motion, as well as stills, finding new agencies that want to build their collections quickly as Workbook did, loading them up with images but not forgetting the "girl that brought you to the dance" in the first place...that would be your bread and butter agency. In my case that agency is Getty.

Ellen Boughn, Stock Industry Consultant and Pundit
Think of your business as a multi-layered cake. Get your work into all the layers of the business. DEVELOP a specialty and be the best at it in the world. Even photographers on microstock sites need to build their brands within the site in order to get maximum downloads.

Colin Anderson, Stock and Assignment Photographer and Co-Founder, Blend Images
Shoot work that is unique and hard to copy, and keep expenses down to a minimum.

Jonathan Ross, Stock Photographer and Co-Founder, Blend Images

I would say keep costs down. Don’t buy that new camera this year unless it makes you more money. Research is a bigger part of the game, more then ever before. Do your homework and get your ducks in a row before you spend your money on a shoot. Invest in R & D and try to stay true to your vision instead of just copying what you see working for others or that you have already shot yourself. Most of all have as much fun as possible, that always brings the largest rewards, financially and personally.

Rick Becker-Leckrone, Stock Shooter, Co-Founder & CEO Blend Images stock agency
One thing is especially important to keep in mind – now is not the time for a shotgun approach to production. The last decade was about creating massive amounts of RF imagery. Now there’s too much similar content. RM has been underserved with new imagery, but it’s a relatively small market. Micro is interesting, but a lot of hard work and not completely clear one can generate the same returns as in traditional stock. (Yes, some do, but very few.) Chill out in 2009. Figure out what you’re truly good at shooting, figure out what the market is missing and make fewer, but better targeted content. Don’t count the success of your 2009 in the number of images you produce.

Shalom Ormsby, Assignment and Stock Shooter Stills And Motion, Co-Founder Blend Images

A short story, since I’ve been so long-winded. At the end of a talk the Dalai Lama was giving about true happiness, he was asked what was the happiest day of his life. The Dalai Lama smiled and said softly, “That would be today.” May today be the happiest day of your life.

Tom Joyce, Owner/Creative Director Creativewerks

Do whatever you do with great passion and make it as perfect as you can. Then let go of it and grab a beer.

Lanny Ziering, CEO SuperStock, Co-Founder Blend Images

Talk to people who buy pictures, find out what they want, go and shoot it.

Trevor Lush, Stock and Assignment Photographer

I see me moving away from the high-volume work I've been doing in the past, towards a much more targeted approach. Fewer images with more added value.

Patty Meyers, Owner, Bloodhound Stock Photo Research

I find more and more art buyers are going to these alternative sites for innovative work. Basically, my advice is to get your images out to as many traditional and alternative image sources as possible, watch the trends and keep your work contemporary, and try and find a niche which needs filled. That and find a partner with a real job.

Inti St. Clair, Assignment and Stock Stills and Video
Shoot what you love. There is not a lot that’s easy about being a pro photographer, and the sad reality is that very little time is spent actually shooting, but as long as you’re loving it, it’s all worth while.

Collette Kulak, Art Director, Marian Heath Greeting Cards

Shoot what you love. There is not a lot that’s easy about being a pro photographer, and the sad reality is that very little time is spent actually shooting, but as long as you’re loving it, it’s all worth while.

Tom Grill, Stock Shooter, Agency Owner (Tetra), Blend Co-Founder

With declining RPI’s it’s becoming more difficult to earn a substantial living from stock photography. Now is a good time to honestly access your talents and resources relative to what it will take to make a go in the tougher times ahead. Follow the old stock market adage of getting out when the market is high and jumping in when the market is low. NOW – in this time of severe economic downturn -- is the time to buy stocks in the stock market as well as pour images into the stock photo market.

Lance Lee, Stock and Assignment Photographer, Mentor, Entrepreneur

For our stock photography projects, I'm encouraging our photographers and production team to work as if they are working in a film production. The process is pretty much the same - creative story telling translated into pictures.

Dan Heller, Stock Photographer And Stock Industry Analyst

Photographers are going to have to get behind initiatives that encourage openness, distribution, and wider-scale adoption of intellectual property. This is the one and only path that will help bring order to the chaos of images on the Internet. And with that comes ranking and prioritization, much like how Google ranks websites.
And when that happens, “quality” images will percolate to the top, and reward those photographers who truly are better than others. If one assumes that most “pros” are better photographers than consumers, the only way pros’ images will be found and licensed by buyers of any sort, will be when there are business incentives for companies to build those technology solutions.

Sarah Fix, Creative Director, Blend Images
A photographer’s greatest assets are their creativity and ability to speak to the market. What is your creative advantage? What do you do better than most?
There is always opportunity during challenging times. Right now in our industry there are fewer images being created, fewer shoots with higher production value, social networking is making it easier to give and receive information, the rights managed licensing model is in need of new content, motion is gaining momentum with affordable cameras that capture both stills and motion – how do you plan on taking advantage of this moment? Adapt as the market changes.

Jeremy Woodhouse, Stock Photographer and Educator (Photography Workshops), Blend Images Co-Founder

Take time to get grounded in a location, check out the bookstores, post card racks, see where the “hot spots” are and work around them. Look for new ideas; introduce some of your own technique/style into a location. Use the light, not only the edge of the daylight but even midday light can work, especially with HDR. You can beat the contrast big time. Revisit the same locations several times in different light.

John Feingersh, Stock Photographer, Co Founder Blend Images
Hold on, keep your chins up, find those holes in the files and fill them with great imagery.

Charlie Holland, Stock Shooter, Former Director of Photography, Getty Images

Be smart, direct your efforts. Spread your submissions out over collections, over time and over business models. Do not overspend on your productions.

Sarah Golonka, Stock Shooter, Stock Photography Consultant, Art Director/Editor

Keep your head up and look back to help prepare yourself for the future. Be aware of and open to change and work with it vs. against it. Analyze your sales history and draw your own conclusions as to why your images did and did not sell, then apply that information to your future shoots. Keep taking creative risks and stick to shooting what you are good at vs. trying to reinvent the wheel.

Trinette Reed And Chris Gramly, Stock and Assignment Stills And Motion (Trinette is a Cofounder of Blend Images)
Trinette: Be open minded and open to change, experiment, use the downturn to focus on what you really want to be doing, stay connected.
Chris: Stay open to the changes and open to learning; don’t pretend to know what you don’t know.

Don Farrall, Stock and Assignment Photographer

I used to counsel photographers about getting into stock and can be credited for bringing a handful of photographers, and even a few illustrators, through the process of securing a contract with Getty; back in the days when that was a Golden ticket. I would have to say that I am much less “Bullish” about it now. These are difficult times to be encouraging, so I suppose I would want to see someone’s work first before I answered that question for them.

Offir Gutelzon, CEO PicScout

Making content available for more marketing applications and promotional use, while selling content as RF, is essential. Photographers should follow your actions, like those you’ve taken that improve rankings on search engines, and promote themselves in new ways, even at the risk of image infringements.

Hope that helps! Look for more interviews in the coming year. BTW, I predict that 2010 is going to be a good year...based on the fact that it rolls off the tongue nicely!

To see the entire interview with any of the above people go to my Interiview Index.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Stock Photo Expedition: In Search Of The Himalayan Holstein

A rare stock photo and funny picture of a batch of Himalayan Cows watching the sunrise.

From Holland To the Himalayas
No one is sure when the first Holstein cows made the long migration from Holland to the Himalayas, but those interested in such matters speculate that it was in the late 1700’s. It is believed that these Himalayan Holsteins are the purest of modern Holstein cattle as their remote and rocky habitat has isolated them from other breeds for hundreds of years. This remarkable branch of the popular breed of milk cow has adapted well for life in their mountainous habitat.

Mountain Goats, Antelope, and Yaks
Among the unique traits of the Himalayan Holstein are it’s ability to climb with the sureness of hoof of mountain goats, the strength and agility to leap like antelope, and the ability to survive on terrain so barren of vegetation that even a Yak would starve. These remarkable beasts have developed a sense of smell so keen that they can locate a single sprout beneath several feet of snow. They also have become quite adept a raiding the alfalfa fields of villagers in the dead of night utilizing their amazing athleticism to bound easily over the rock fences erected by the villagers.

The Stealth Of A Snow Leopard
Over the years the Himalayan Holstein has become as stealthy as the much-fabled snow leopard. Their Black and White camouflage hides serve them well in the patchy snow and harsh shadows of the higher elevations. It is a rare privilege to see a single Himalayan Holstein let alone a batch (the scientific name for three or more Himalayan Holsteins gathered together in one place). You can imagine, then, my excitement at being able to photograph these three cows as they watched the sunrise.

The Quest For A Stock Photo
For years I had thirsted for a shot of these amazing creatures for my stock picture collection. This was my third trip to the Himalayas in a effort to fulfill that desire. The first two had been disappointments. The closest I had come to sighting one of these rare beasts was some frozen hoof prints on a remote glacier and the stories I heard from my Sherpa guides as we huddled around the campfire at night. But on this, my third expedition, fortune was with me.

Cluster Peaks And Fresh Scat
I had heard rumors among the villagers and Sherpas that Himalayan Holsteins are very found of watching the sunrise and would often climb atop the highest peaks available to catch the burgeoning dawn. Apparently they prefer clusters of sharp peaks that facilitate both a good view of the sunrise and a clear view of any potential threats as well. I was lucky. A local villager had shared with me that he had seen their tracks near just such a cluster of peaks, with relatively fresh scat, to indicate their presence. Nonetheless, I had to wait patiently in a blind, downwind of the peaks, for almost three weeks before the coming light of the dawn revealed these three excellent specimens. I was only able to get this one shot off. Even though they were over a hundred yards away they apparently heard my shutter click and in an instant they had bounded away and out of site.

Base Camp, Laptops, And Stock Photography

Back at my base camp I downloaded my shot onto my laptop. I was elated to see that I had captured a clear, sharp photograph, the only known photograph, of a batch of Himalayan Holsteins. Not just an incredible memory, but also an important and valuable addition to my stock photography collection.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Funny Pictures: Humor In Stock Photography

Funny pictures, and effective stock photos, can be created by revealing the unexpected, as in this photograph of a nude audience to illustrate presentation issues.

Entertainment Advertising And Images We Want To See

Entertainment advertising is upon us. With the advent of TiVo and technologies that allow us to zip past commercials, with pop up window blockers, with viral advertising and with such a vast quantity of, well, stuff, to choose from on the Internet, on Television and even on Satellite Radio, advertisers are increasingly at the mercy of our viewing discretion. If they want to get their messages across, to get their messages seen, more and more they have to create advertisements that we want to see. They have to create entertainment advertising. One way for us still photographers to participate in this is through humor. We can increase our chances to prosper in these difficult times by creating images that employ humor with a strong concept that is relevant to the market.

Funny Pictures, Negative Concepts And Best Sellers
Funny pictures, stock photos employing humor, can take a variety of forms from black humor (negative or looming disaster) to silly (outrageous expressions) to the absurd (over-the-top imagery). I have often heard the negative images don’t sell, but my personal experience has been the opposite…when humor is introduced to that negative concept the image can be a best seller. Of course, the same is true for any of the concepts; humor, executed well, raises the bar for any image.

Facebook, Twitter And Going Viral
One particularly important aspect of adding humor to your photography, making your photos funny as well as informative, is that people love to share humor. Nothing can spread the word for an advertiser faster than people telling their friends, spreading the message, e-mailing it, posting it on Facebook and tweeting on Twitter. Humor is the grease for that Holy Grail, the message gone viral.

Half Time Commercials And Humor In Advertising
A premier example of the value placed on funny advertising is the Super Bowl, where in many cases people are looking forward to the half-time commercials more than the game itself. If you need proof of the premium placed on humor in advertising, you have to look no further.

By using a picture of a Sumo wrestler in this stock image I tried to minimize any possible offense to people struggling with weight issues.

Funny To One, Offensive To Another, And Sumo Wrestlers
You do have to be careful with humor though. It is important to remember that what is funny to one person, or one group of people, might well be offensive to another group. I encountered that very problem when trying to work out an idea I had for an impossible catch…a flying trapeze artist about to catch someone so overweight that the catch would seem impossible. I sat on the idea for over a year because I was afraid I would offend people who have to deal with obesity problems. Eventually I hit upon what I felt was a perfect answer…a Sumo wrestler. By using a Sumo wrestler in the shot the issue of obesity was sidestepped. Sumo wrestlers are extremely respected and proud of their size and are not generally regarded as suffering from obesity problems. I did check with my model, an actual Sumo wrestler, about whether there would be a problem with such an image, and both he and a Sumo wrestling association gave me a thumbs-up on the image.

Adding animals, such as with this lion trainer with his head in a lions mouth, is an effective way to add humor and impact to your stock photos.

The Unexpected, The Absurd, And Animals
As with the Sumo wrestler, showing the unexpected or the absurd is a great way to add humor to your stock photography. Another way of adding that “funny” element to your work is through the introduction of animals. People have a natural affinity for animals, particularly cats and dogs, but in the example here the cat is a big one and it works perfectly to create a timeless, funny and dramatic photo about the negative concepts of risk and danger.

This funny bowling picture works because the image walks that fine edge of possibility allowing a viewer to momentarily suspend their disbelief.

The Fine Edge Of Possibility

Another technique in adding effective humor to your imagery is by capturing situations that have plausibility, but are over the top. Part of the trick is to walk the fine edge of possibility, to create an image that is just real enough to make a viewer, if only for an instant, suspend their disbelief. If you can get a viewer to that place, where they pause and consider the situation, you have caught their attention and that is exactly the job of your photograph.

Funny Pictures, Success, And Revenue
Humor is a powerful tool to increase the effectiveness of your stock photography. It can turn negative messages into positive ones, increase the chance of viral success, and make people want to see your messages rather than avoid them. Funny pictures are the corner stone, for still photographers, of entertainment advertising, and as such can significantly add to your photography success, and to your revenue.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Flying Money: History Of A Best Selling Stock Photo

The first stock photo I ever made with Photoshop, 19 years ago, and still selling!

Flying Money, My First Photoshop Stock Photo

I noticed, when looking through my sales history, that many of my images have a very long life. The above image of flying money, which I named many years ago, Flight of the Greenbacks, is one of those long-lived pictures. It brought in just under $400.00 over the last year. Now $400.00 in a year for a stock photo is hardly what one would call spectacular, hardly worth mentioning, I suppose. But the cool thing about this image earning that amount over the last year, is that I created this image in 1990! This image was, I believe, the first stock photo I ever created in Photoshop.

Hundred Dollar Bills and Wings of Egrets
I photographed the money, a $100.00 bill, with a 4x5 Sinar camera using Ektachrome 4x5 transparency film. The wings came from a 35mm slide of an Egret in flight that I had photographed for part of a housing project brochure. I photographed the Egret using either Ektachrome or Kodachrome slide film, I don't remember which. The cloudy sky image was also from a 35mm slide. I had all the transparencies scanned on a drum scanner at a separation house. It cost me a hefty $110.00 a scan, and each scan was transferred to me via SyQuest disk.

Photoshop 1.0 And A Macintosh II

I used Photoshop 1.0 for the digital work on a Macintosh II. My machine had a whopping 32 megs of Ram and a un-calibrated 13 inch monitor. In Photoshop, back then, there were no layers, there was no history, there were no layer masks and there wasn't even a pen tool to create clipping paths (at least at don't remember one). It took me two full days to create this image, and probably a third day of just cleaning up edges. Trying to get things perfect was the difficult part. Well, that and the fact that everything took forever to do! Rotating a 30 megabyte file took over half-an-hour, and since all you could see during the duration was a bounding box, accuracy was non-existent! I don't even like remembering it. Finally, I had to deliver the image to Tony Stone Images (this was before Getty Images existed) as a 4x5 transparency output from a film recorder.

$15,000.00, Fifteen Years, And A Time Magazine Cover
Though the earnings of this image have dropped considerably, way back in the day, it earned some good money. I would guess my total returns for this image is in the neighborhood of $15,000.00. Another interesting point is that it took fifteen years from the time I created it for it to show up on the cover of Time Magazine. The people at Time isolated the flying money and added in a face to illustrate an article on what they called "The Great Retirement Rip Off".

Photoshop, Progress Bars and 3D Programs

In the early nineties I was constantly being told that you couldn't use Photoshop to do professional level work. I just smiled and went back to watching that progress bar. Actually, I should say several progress bars. You could be much more efficient with two or three machines. I remember once using the "radial>zoom>blur" filter on a photograph in an operation that took 19+ hours to finish, then it didn't look very good so I did the old "command-z". I suppose there are those out there (Colin Anderson, Shalom Ormsby and Phil Banko, for example?) who now experience those same situations doing high-end work with 3D programs.

Income Producing Assets
Every time I set about to make a stock photo, I am trying to create an image with that kind of staying power. In the well-known investment book Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki advocates investing your money in “income producing assets”. That is how I view my stock photos, as income producing assets. I am investing my time, my money and my ideas in stock photo assets. I don’t know about you, but I find it very reassuring that those assets can still, even in these years of industry turbulence, have a long and healthy life.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

PicScout CEO Offir Gutelzon Interviewed

Searching For Images? This "search metaphor" stock photo is currently part of an image infringement law suit by Getty Images.

Interview with Offir Gutelzon, PicScout CEO, December 12, 2009

Disclaimer to John Lund: The answers provided reflect PicScout’s opinion as of the date of this response. Given the highly fluid environment we are in, answers could change quickly based upon market changes.

Q. Offir, can you give us a brief background; how PicScout came to be and your role in that, as well as a little about where your company stands today?

A. In 2002, Eyal Gura and I founded PicScout. At the time, Eyal’s girlfriend (now his wife), was working for an Israeli stock agency in the job of searching for image infringement on the web in the old fashioned way--manually. That is, searching online for images and looking for attribution and ownership both online and in the real world and trying to determine if licensing had been engaged for the online usage of images owned by the stock agency. This proved to be a challenging task, if not an impossible one. Eyal and I, who at the time were both getting advanced degrees from IDC Herzliya (http://portal.idc.ac.il/en/main/homepage/Pages/homepage.aspx), recognized a tremendous market need to have an automated system which could track, protect and monetize images in the ever-exploding Web. I assumed the role of taking our vision from an idea to a product operation model to R&D and into reality, which we knew would require a seamless infrastructure capable of serving millions of Rights Managed images globally.

Through the PicScout proprietary and highly scalable image recognition technology, we created the image copyright protection marketplace, bringing millions of dollars back into the industry with our now widely-used product, ImageTracker™. From the outset, we envisioned our goal: Image commerce becoming a legitimate Internet economy.

PicScout believes every image on the Web—whether an amateur or professional image-- is usable, saleable and trackable. The company recently launched products and services to assure that every image gets its credit™ and engender a new model for image commerce, moving the industry from a practice of policing infringement to one of enabling use. The enabling technology we recently announced, the PicScout Image IRC™ includes our products ImageTracker™ and ImageExchange™, and creates a pervasive online image marketplace. PicScout does not run the image marketplace; running the marketplace is, and always has been, what the image industry itself does. PicScout just makes it possible for our customers to present their store fronts to their customers—the many millions of online users trying to find them—through the use of the PicScout ImageExchange™ add-on.

Today, PicScout, with its many customers, is realizing the new model in an actual online marketplace of images that exists everywhere an image resides. The Image IRC assures that every one of its images is recognized with ownership and rights and equipped for transaction at the point of the user experience, wherever that may be. See: http://www.picscout.com/news-and-events/industry-wide-support.html and http://tinyurl.com/ybfu7tj.

PicScout has moved from a single product company to a company with a platform of products and services that now serves multiple industries: The image industry and all its users. These users are challenged every day both to find images and determine their rights, so they can legitimately use an image they find online. These users are from many categories of creative groups who employ images to accomplish their work—designers, corporate marketing and communications professionals, the advertising industry, the publishing industry, bloggers, photography editors and buyers. The image marketplace, based on the PicScout Image IRC, facilitates communication and connection between image owners and image buyers in a new model that moves away from infringement to legitimate and immediate image use.

Q. There is considerable buzz about your new products ImageExchange and Image Tracker. Can you give us a brief run down on these products?

A. PicScout products offer both the carrot and the stick.

Our first product, ImageTracker, represents the stick. Launched in 2003, ImageTracker is based on proprietary PicScout image fingerprinting technology that allows any image to be identified even if it has been altered. ImageTracker has been widely adopted by image owners and licensors across the industry. ImageTracker has successfully identified potential cases of infringement for our customers. Equipped with the information, our customers have acted to restore tens of millions of dollars to the industry by pursuing infringement charges.

ImageExchange, the carrot, reverses the image commerce model and leverages all that the new PicScout Image IRC has to offer. ImageExchange is the tool for image buyers and users to see ownership and available rights and transact for image use at the point of encounter with an image anywhere online. ImageExchange, currently in beta trials, is a free Browser add-on. Creative professionals register for the beta and download at http://imagex.picscout.com/ Once the tool is installed, its button can be turned on or off. Using ImageExchange, an image buyer recognizes any of the tens of millions of Image IRC images by markers wherever they encounter one of the images online—whether in a search, such as through Google or Yahoo! Image Search, or at a site, or anywhere online that an Image IRC image might appear. The international information symbol—a small, encircled appears in the upper right corner of an image. ImageExchange enables an easy 4-step image acquisition process: Find, click, view metadata, click-through to transact.

Our creatives in the beta (marcom people, designers, photo editors, etc) are telling us that they are saving hours and days of time. They tell us they get requests all the time to find and use certain images in presentations, marketing materials, and in print or online publications. While the new Google Similar Image feature and Yahoo’s search functions make searching for the right image easier, the image user still must then spend hours and days trying to find the rights, and usually they're not able to do so. It's been very frustrating for them, to say the least. PicScout ImageExchange is making their work much easier.

Consider that until now professional image buyers—those in corporate marketing, designers, advertising agencies, and magazine, newspaper and online photo editors, for examples—have steered clear of online images altogether, because of ownership ambiguity. A designer risks too much for themselves, their companies or their clients if they reproduce an online image and later must face accusations of and charges for infringement for themselves and their client. So individuals in professions comprising image users must avoid the feast of images the internet inherently has to offer with ready availability, because image copyrights have been impossible to manage. ImageExchange opens the online image marketplace for legitimate transaction and a new model for image commerce emerges.

Q. Some of my images, particularly my Animal Antics photos, are infringed to a truly amazing degree. The infringements, though, are mostly on social networking sites, Flickr, non-commercial blogs and so forth. I get the feeling that few if any of the many infringements of my images are worth pursuing. Is that true? If so, do you think it is true for most photographers?

A. You present an example of where Image IRC and ImageExchange are invaluable. While you are right in saying that using your images without permission is infringement, it is impossible to fight all infringements unless you have endless time and money. Rather than you, the owner, having to bear the responsibility of pursuing infringement by using a product like the ImageTracker and then enforcing your findings, if users are enabled with ImageExchange, they will recognize your image’s ownership, what the rights for use are, and be able to pay for/license the rights to use the image at the point of encounter. Essentially, cases of infringement become promotions; though you’re not condoning the infringement, you provide an immediate remedy for it.

In terms of the ImageTracker, today most of our clients find it worthwhile to specifically pursue business accounts rather than individual accounts, although some do consider individual cases as a matter of principle.

With the new ImageExchange, infringement and any excuses for non-legitimate use can no longer withstand scrutiny, if your images are part of Image IRC. So ideally, what occurs is a reduction in the number of infringements because you take away the excuse and the hassle of trying to figure out how to buy it. At PicScout, we fundamentally believe that if you give people the opportunity to do the right thing (by identifying images with the icon and providing corresponding licensing information), the vast majority will do the right thing – and for those that don’t – the ImageTracker serves as the enforcement tool.

Q. I believe one of the dysfunctions of the current system for licensing and distributing photography is that there doesn't seem to be a practical way to license for "personal use", i.e. screensavers, homework reports, non-commercial blogs, or prints to stick on your refrigerator. Do you agree? Is there an answer?

A. Any image, including those you mention here, can be recognized with ownership and rights and equipped for immediate transaction if it’s part of the PicScout Image IRC. Wherever one of our images is encountered, its marker, the icon, can be seen by anyone using ImageExchange. This means the shopping cart and pricing charts provided by the licensors can include a range of potential uses and a range of prices. We believe if our industry makes it easy for people to buy (not necessarily license), and buy at a level they seek to use the image for, they will do the right thing. You can think of it as the same as people who buy music for personal use, they do not necessarily know about the music studio that created the music, they just use iTunes or go to Virgin.

Q. Does registering your copyright with the Copyright Office make any difference when dealing with many of the most common infringements such as unauthorized use of pictures on social media sites and/or non-commercial blogs?

A. When an image is registered with the Copyright Office, you do have the right to file for statutory damages, which carry many substantial penalties, and in some cases you can recover legal fees, as well. You should speak with an attorney for additional information regarding this question.

Q. PicScout is for collections over 30,000 images. I, for example, have about 6,000 images out there, and they are almost all handled by various agencies. Should I just leave it up to the agencies to enforce the copyright?

A. You are referring to ImageTracker in your question, where we typically require a minimum number of images. The images for ImageTracker also must be Rights Managed images where the licensor can easily validate who does and who does not have permission to use a particular image. The primary image usages should also consist of commercial web sites in order for the product to be of value in terms of revenue recovery. If your images are represented by one of the agencies working with us, you are safe. If you want to get reports directly from us, you should be aware of the efforts you’ll have to make on your own behalf and the necessary fight you face to prove your rights, even when a case may seem clear.

Image IRC with ImageExchange embraces any image—rights managed, royalty free, or creative commons. We are about to announce a photographers platform where images may be submitted to the Image IRC through a photographers service. This will be the first of many announcements forthcoming which will enable photographers, regardless of image collection size, to be able to include their images in the Image IRC, which means all their images will appear to ImageExchange users with the icon.

Copyright enforcement is a component of the “stick” model. Enabling use—the “carrot”—is the more proactive solution and much easier on you and buyers of your images.

Q. It is my understanding that it is impossible to track and enforce infringement of RF images. Do you think that your technology will move the photography world more towards RM images and away for the RF business model?

A. From a tracking perspective, RF images are the same as RM images. However, to enforce copyright infringement, you must be able to prove the person/entity did not have the right to use the image. Historically, given how Royalty Free images have been distributed, tracking of an image’s use by image owners and distributors has proven very difficult to do. You should also speak with an attorney for a specific legal opinion on this point.

Our ImageExchange technology provides no advantage for one license type over another; Under ImageExchange use, RM, RF, as well as UGC images, all contribute to growing the overall size of the marketplace by enabling more people to buy more images at the point of the user’s experience. Whatever the technology, market demand will ultimately judge the model which best meets the needs of customers.

Q. Are the concerns of stock agencies any different than those of individual photographers?

A. PicScout is focused on ensuring that Every Image Gets Its Credit. Doing so aligns the interests of agencies and photographers by specifically focusing on growing the overall market size of paid/authorized image consumption.

Q. Are agencies doing a good job of combating piracy?

A. Technology has evolved quickly and as a result piracy is as easy as a right-click-and-save-as. The best way to combat piracy is by providing a solution that does not require consumers of images to significantly alter their behavior. ImageExchange does just this by providing a solution at the point of the user experience – enabling users of images to connect with the licensor for authorized use. Until there are more ImageExchange equipped users and knowledge of how to use legitimate images increases, agencies will use products such as the ImageTracker with their own good compliance teams, or one of the legal partners from the PicScout network, to do what they can to combat piracy.

Q. One hears that copyright is less respected in countries such as China and India. Is that true? Is that changing at all?

A. PicScout provides ImageTracker services on a world-wide basis depending upon client needs. While we are in the process of reaching out in India and China, our statistics show that even in developed countries such as US, UK, and Germany, the infringement rate of RM images on Commercial websites is as high as 85%. Can China and India be much worse?

Q. I have given permission to many people who make "siggies, tags and tubes" to use my “animal antics” work non-commercially in exchange for links to my site and a credit line. The idea is to at least bolster the importance of my site and get the word out about my work. That would seem, however, to make tracking unauthorized uses very difficult, or even impossible. In your opinion is that a good idea or a mistake?

A. I greatly believe it’s a good move to permit others to use your images in exchange for marketing, even if tracking unauthorized use is difficult. This is one of the reasons we created the Image Exchange, so you can market your images and manage their use in different applications through the Image IRC. It doesn’t matter where your image appears or who is using it, the ImageExchange always displays the icon, which can also serve as a sales/traffic generator for the artist/agency.

Q. You say 90% of images on the web are infringements. How did you come up with that figure? What percentage of copyright infringements is worth going after?

A. Today, PicScout company data shows more than 85% of rights managed images on commercial web sites are being used non-legitimately. We came up with this number after constantly crawling the growing web for more than 7 years to maintain accurate reporting of non-legitimate usage to our clients.

Note some additional historical information about infringements: Currently, Image Tracker serves only RM images, because we believe these are the only image infringements actually worth the time and effort required for enforcement. As we see the market shifting increasingly to RF, the advantage to the industry clearly comes from creating awareness of every image’s rights and connecting people directly to images’ licensors.

In 2003, PicScout was searching commercial web sites for Rights Managed images of some major stock collections and discovered that nine out of every ten images found were unauthorized uses. (Infringements of Stock Images and Lost Revenues, 2007)

In 2005, SAA and PicScout joined together to conduct a more in-depth study of the infringement problem. Using a sample of 20,000 images over a four month period, PicScout used its own technology to comb commercial websites in the US, UK and Germany. In just 4 months, 388 infringements were located. Translating this to an annual number, it was determined that nearly 1 out of every 17 images was being used non-legitimately. Interestingly, the highest rate of misuse was in the US (64%), followed by Germany (23%) and then the UK (13%). Furthermore, it was determined that on 29 of the sites where images were found, another 91 images that were not included in the sample were also being used. This suggests a pattern of misuse – if one image is found to be non-legitimate, it’s a good chance there will be more. Unfortunately, we also determined that these unauthorized images were not short-term uses; one year after the study, “many of the same images were still in use” on the websites. (Infringements of Stock Images and Lost Revenues, 2007)

“Getty says it finds about 42,000 examples of copyright infringement a year. For its part, Corbis says it uncovers about 70,000 violations annually.” (LA Times, 9/13/09)

Q. Is piracy on the web going to be an increasing problem, or will developments like PicScout turn the tide?

A. We believe that given the opportunity and the tools to “do the right thing” most people will do it. The PicScout Image IRC with ImageExchange model opens the online image marketplace for legitimate image use and transaction; such a model has not been widely available until now. As the industry and its users embrace the new image commerce model, we believe online image rights infringement will diminish and become comparable to the real world, at least. Having said that, we believe that infringers will always exist, and therefore, there always will be a need for the stick, such as the ImageTracker.

Q. What kinds of copyright challenges do photographers face in dealing with Europe and Asia?

A. Each country has its own regulations and laws regarding copyright. We would suggest that you speak with a copyright attorney for specific opinions and quotes here. If you would like an introduction to attorneys in the UK and Germany, we would be happy to provide them to you.

Q. If it isn't economically viable for PicScout to handle photographer accounts with fewer than 30,000 images, what advice do you have for such photographers?

A. See previous answers regarding pending platform announcements. First, make sure all of your image distributors are using the ImageTracker. Second, when PicScout announces the photographers platform upload your images to be part of the Image IRC.

Q. Do you have a favorite PicScout success story you can share?

A. For the ImageTracker, PicScout has brought millions upon millions of dollars back into the industry through recaptured revenue and we are very proud that we have created this revenue stream for photographers and agencies. Some agencies are more effective in copyright revenue infringement collection than others – this is why in 2010, PicScout is devoting significant attention on an account management basis to help our agency clients improve their processes and collection methods for image infringement either internally or through using outside third party legal partners.

I’ll tell you one story that demonstrates well how important it is to recognize that every image gets its credit and why every image should ultimately be part of the Image IRC.

One of our own PicScout team members and her husband, an amateur photographer, were on vacation and he took a beautiful picture of our employee on a dock during (sunrise/sunset). Weeks later, after returning home, they received a promotional mailing from the lodge where they had stayed. In the advertisement touting the lodge’s many features and assets, the company had incorporated a slightly altered version of the very photograph our team member’s husband had taken. It was discovered that the lodge had acquired the image through Flickr without permission to use it. The lodge thought the amateur’s image was valuable enough to promote their business – and should have sought permission and/or compensation to use the image. This image is part of the Image IRC, and as adoption of the ImageExchange becomes commonplace, the image will populate with the icon as users encounter it.

Q. Do you see Google Image search becoming an increasingly important tool for art directors, designers and art buyers to find images for commercial uses?

A. Kids and students now growing up to be the next image buyers are making their choices now from among one of the big three search engines. According to PhotoShelter, 6% of image buyers surveyed use image search engines, which adds to the traffic coming through traditional stock houses. Google, Yahoo! Image Search, Bing, as well as any web page that contains an image, offer technology to inspire creative professionals and enhance their productivity, such as Similar Image. Ultimately, incorporating the ImageExchange icon and the PicScout connection functionality, where owner information is readily identified, will further expand the relevancy of these search engines for users and buyers of images.

Q. Do you forecast the consumer ever becoming an important revenue source for photographers?

A. We see potential for current expansion among the quasi creative professional as being an immediate source of additional revenue. This group, consisting of corporate communications professionals, i-bankers, consultants, sales people—in fact, anyone needing to convey messaging through today’s graphical environment, both internally and externally—as being an immediate source of market expansion. Over time, we also see the general consumer market developing, once ImageExchange use penetrates among the professional and quasi professional image buyers to find images and transact for legitimate use.

We believe this will occur because of the precedent that will be set for image buyers to transact online for image use.

In terms of the casual image buyers, like those wanting to enjoy images they find online to use as posters or emblems on a t-shirt, of those that are aware of copyright protection, they believe today there are only two real options: Either don’t use the image; or copy the image and think no one will know or no one will get hurt. The reality is the marketplace has not made it easy for them to use an image in a legitimate way.

Also, it's not that everyone online has gone bad, it's that awareness of what is legitimate use is limited. On behalf of iStockphoto, KRC Research in Washington DC, conducted an online survey of 1,003 adults in June 2008 asking them about digital media usage. The study “revealed that 33 percent of Americans are using downloaded digital content, but nearly 30 percent are unaware that permission may be required for its use. This lack of awareness spikes to 38 percent among Americans in both the 18-24 and 65 and older age groups.” http://www.istockphoto.com/file_pressreleaseview/35/iStockPR_09_17_2008.pdf

To illustrate the difficulty in identifying image ownership and rights, do a Google Image search for a happy family or a youth soccer team. You'll see some great images, but with many, many duplications of same photos that all seem to have different origins or site residences. Without the ImageExchange, actual ownership of any image found in a search is anybody's guess.

Q. This may be a little off topic, but I believe the biggest challenge facing photographers in the coming years will be getting seen amid all the mind-numbing quantities of photographs being uploaded onto the internet. Do you have any opinions or insights you could share with us on that potential problem and what photographers can do about it?

A. I believe this question is best addressed by asking agencies how they feel quality, uniqueness, freshness and other characteristics of images can best be showcased when there are such vast quantities of images being uploaded onto various sites. While the amount of images is growing, I greatly believe in the idea of price discrimination, where prices should be different based on the type of usage of the image, or considering different levels of services for different sizes or types of companies; i.e., profit or non-profit.

Q. Are there issues that I haven’t brought up that you feel are important for photographers to be aware of?

A. Collectively, it’s in the industry’s best interest to ensure that Every Image Gets Its Credit. Therefore making images part of the Image IRC and enabling use of the ImageExchange, either through an add-on or as a native part of an application or program, provides a clear mechanism for enabling a legitimate internet economy to develop for images. This means a vast increase in the quantity of images purchased as well as an awareness increase in terms of the valuation of images. Rapid adoption of both are important to the industry’s ability to play catch-up with technology advances and consumer behavior trends. Also, making content available for more marketing applications and promotional use, while selling content as RF, is essential. Photographers should follow your actions, like those you’ve taken that improve rankings on search engines, and promote themselves in new ways, even at the risk of image infringements.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Interview With Stock Photographer Don Farrall

A bursting bubble photographed by Don Farrall for his stock photo collection ©Don Farrall

Don, I know that you embraced the RF stock model early on and it has worked very well for you. Can you bring us up to speed on how you came to be a professional photographer and how you became involved in stock photography?

When I was fifteen, my father gave me a hand-me-down Mamiya-Sekor 500 DTL, and I was hooked. From there, it was on to Brooks Institute, followed by a four-year stint at Hallmark Cards, in Kansas City MO, followed by a four-year stint in Dallas, TX as a “Retail Product” photographer, where my main client was Neiman-Marcus. In 1988, I returned to Nebraska, my home state; opening a studio in Lincoln. My Dallas experience was as a specialist-photographer; my experience in Nebraska has been as a generalist-photographer, shooting for advertising clients.

In The early ‘90’s, I submitted images to “The Image Bank” and to “Comstock”; they were not interested, my work was too general. In 1996, Photodisc was looking for contributing photographers, so I submitted 100 images for consideration. The images were primarily backgrounds; very basic elements. I really didn’t have any idea how lucrative that experiment would turn out to be. Photodisc published two complete Don Farrall-Elements Discs, along with another thirty or so disc products that included some of my work. Photodisc began placing images in a searchable database on the web, and the rest is history. Within two years, the revenue was surpassing my assignment work. As the revenue grew, I invested more money and more time into stock production. Getty bought Photodisc, and I have been a contracted Getty contributor since.

What percentage of your work is currently stock?

I am currently spending about 50% of my time working on stock production, (which includes research), 30% of my time shooting for clients, and the other 20% learning something new that will hopefully contribute to both my stock and my assignment income. Of late, this has included video.

From an income standpoint, stock is still my main income source. My assignment revenue is down a bit, mostly due to the lackluster economy as far as I can tell. I am doing the same repeat projects, but the projects are smaller than they have been in the recent past. My stock income is down, but it seems to have stabilized.

Do you see that percentage changing in coming years?

When stock was king, I could rationalize spending all my time shooting stock, and for a few years I quit doing any assignment work. But I missed the contact with other creatives. I like a balance, and I like having an additional revenue stream. Unless things change too much, I suppose the percentages will stay about as they are.

I know you have work distributed through Getty. Are you using other outlets as well?

Getty has been very good to me. I am one of the few photographers, who on most occasions, will defend Getty. I placed a few hundred images with Alamy a few years ago, before Getty started accepting RF images into Photographer’s Choice. At the time, I had some “orphaned” images that were Getty “non-selects” that I wanted to place somewhere; so I put them on Alamy. When Getty opened up “Photographer’s Choice Royalty Free”, I pulled the best of my images from Alamy and put them on Getty PCRF. This was a good move; and for what it’s worth, Getty should have accepted them in the first place, my PCRF “return per image” is on par with my editor selects. I still have a few hundred images with Alamy, mostly more editorial in nature, and they bring in a reasonable monthly income, but I have not been contributing much new material there. With Alamy, search order (Rank) is very critical, and I have managed to maintain a high Alamy Rank. I have placed a small collection of images in the microstock marketplace as a test, with the intent of understanding what the fuss has been about. I’m sure you’ll ask a more direct microstock question, which I will attempt to answer in a diplomatic way.

Do you do any direct sales? If not, do you have any plans to do so?

I have made a few direct sales to local clients, but the prospect of trying to drive buyers to me directly seems pretty daunting, and at present I can’t imagine putting my efforts into making that happen. I would rather shoot, and let others sell my images; there is no way I could compete with the traffic reach of Getty. Still, I do know some photographers who have made a direct sales approach work very well for them. My work is too general for this approach, in my opinion. Where I have seen it work, it has been an all-or-nothing approach. By this, I mean if they are selling direct, they do not also sell through any distributors.

Don, as far as subject matter you are all over the place. Your work ranges from medical, to agricultural, from wind farms to money trees to African Tribes. You also have a lot of conceptual photos and special effects work in your collection. Where do you get all those ideas from?

Being a generalist assignment photographer can have its advantages when it comes to shooting stock. My assignment work covers a broad range of subjects and styles, and being proficient across the spectrum carries over to my stock efforts. As for coming up with ideas, I research a lot. I spend time perusing magazine racks, and poking around on the web; I pay attention to the news. I used to have an editor at Getty who would tell me that some of my images were too editorial. I learned to not listen to him in that regard. I’m pretty much “on” all the time, always on the look for ideas, and I am driven by the fear that my last best idea will be my last best idea. It can be difficult at times, and I have had some dry spells. With all of the content available to buyers now, it is sometimes difficult to be original. I have revisited a few concepts that served me well in the film days, shooting them with a fresh new digital update.

I also have a somewhat backwards process that I have come to embrace. I find a prop, something unique, and then I let the prop drive the creative process. I prefer to prop shop and conceptualize on the spot, rather than conceptualizing and then having to hunt down a specific prop. I will also buy props without any concept and they will sit around the studio, and one day I will pick one up and an idea will come to me. I use this excuse to explain how cluttered my studio gets at times.

How do you go about preparing for a stock shoot?

Unlike most stock producers, I don’t shoot lifestyle, and most of my images don’t include models. I really like not having a specific time scheduled for a stock shoot. I take care of my clients, who need specific time on my calendar, and I just shoot stock around that schedule. I tend to shoot series for efficiency. I may spend a day or two just shooting splashing liquid, or I may spend a half a day shooting a variety of table-top concept items. It is not unusual for a single stock image to require a full day’s effort, but when it does, I will have an expectation of that image returning a fair day’s revenue. It is also not unusual for me to be able to generate ten images from a day of shooting and a day of post, and a few hours here and there prior to the shoot day; gathering items or making props.

Do you do your own computer work?

Yes, 100%. I used to have an assistant that would create paths and do cleanup, but I have always done the creative computer work. She is no longer working for me, so I am a solo operation. Most of my stock images include some level of computer enhancement; some have more computer work than photography. I enjoy this part of the process, and consider it creatively on par with the lighting, propping and shooting phases of the overall process.

What do you enjoy shooting most?

Anything that has the potential to make lots of money! Seriously, I really get a kick out of creating something that many people will buy and use. Beyond that, I like to capture images that are difficult for others to copy. I achieve some of these images through the use of ultra high-speed strobes, and laser and sound triggers. I also achieve some of them by being very patient and shooting lots and lots of frames. I like visual tricks, and images that make the viewer smile. I also enjoy producing images that involve some digital composite work, the more difficult the better.

I make a point of showing people my stock images before I submit them, looking for their reaction. Sometimes the reaction is not what I am expecting. My toughest critic is my wife. She is the one person who is totally honest, and she will challenge me to go back and make it better. She sees things that I miss, and responds in seconds, make that milliseconds, without fearing that my feelings will be hurt. Her input is invaluable.

About how often do you shoot?

On average, I would say three days a week.

I would describe your style as simple, dramatic, meticulous and to-the-point. How would you describe your style?

Your description works. After years of shooting to layouts for advertising clients, I have learned a few things about communicating concepts clearly with images. Shooting stock has made me a better assignment photographer, and shooting for clients has made me a better stock photographer. I once suggested to my editor at Getty that I didn’t have a specific style, and he countered that my work was very clean and that it read very well. He also noted that, at the time, I had more images in Getty’s top 100 best selling RF images for the previous quarter than any other individual photographer. So for RF stock, maybe no style was just fine.

The world of stock photography has been, shall we say, challenging, for a lot of photographers in recent years. Have you found that to be the case, and if so, what are the challenges that concern you most?

I’m going to answer this in an unconventional way. I used to subscribe to Jim Pickerell’s on-line magazine “Selling Stock”-“Inside the stock image industry”. You know Jim and his publication well, and I am sure he reads your blog. I have had several in-person conversations with him, and have at times posted comments on his site. For several years I found his magazine a very valuable asset, well worth the $125.00 annual subscription price (Now $195.00). Jim has established the contacts to have the inside story on all things stock-industry related. In this regard he is unsurpassed. However, this past year I let my subscription lapse on purpose. Jim has done a very good job of documenting the decline of our industry; too good of a job in my estimation. Some might say I have my head in the sand, but the level of doom and gloom, and the suggestion that everyone should be migrating to microstock as the only hope, just wore too thin for me.

How are you dealing with those challenges?

I’m reading your Blog instead. No kidding. We have all seen the marketplace change dramatically. What matters most is what we are doing to keep in the game. Beyond that, I would have to say that I accept that the “low-hanging fruit” has all been picked, and it is now being given away. This leaves me with the challenge of creating images that go beyond, and that are difficult to copy. I used to produce around 200 new images per year, and I knew pretty well what they would earn. I didn’t have to be too concerned about what I would shoot. Now, I’m producing fewer images, and I am being more deliberative about what I shoot.

Your work over the years has been primarily Royalty Free. I know that you have at least dipped your toe into the Rights Managed waters. What is your strategy at this point when it comes to RF and RM?

I have only had an RM contract with Getty for the past three years. For lack of a better plan, I have deferred to letting my editor at Getty make the determination regarding the best stock model on an image-by-image basis. I suppose that sounds pretty naive, but it has worked out well enough for me. If I shoot something that really seems like it should be RM to me, I can get it in one of the collections. As I strive to produce more unique images, I suppose I will feel like more of them belong in RM. But I do understand the power of a successful RF image, one that will sell many times, and my thought process when I create new images is to try and create something that will meet the needs of a lot of image buyers.

What are your thoughts on Microstock, and if you haven’t already done so, do you intend to participate in that model?

To properly express my analysis of this image marketing model would take pages and pages, but I will try and give a brief answer. Two years ago, in an effort to understand “what the fuss was all about” I began studying the Microstock world. I opened accounts at several Microstock agencies, and began reading forum posts and posting questions. This lead to email exchanges, and some very frank discussions with photographers from around the world. I, of course, read Microstock Diaries, and have posted there in length in the past. I have also been to several Microstock seminars / discussion panels. I have met a number of the “star players”.

After careful study, I placed a limited number of images with three agencies. I have now pulled all of the images from one agency and am in the process of pulling the images from the second. I am leaving my account at Istock open, but have not submitted any new material. I did not enter into this arena because I wanted to, or because I wish to support the model. I entered into it so that I could say with some authority that my opinion about Microstock was based on experience, and not just the reaction from someone from the traditional stock side. My current conclusions are not just based on the results from my sample of images, though they completely support my observational analysis.

There are plenty of philosophical reasons to object to the Microstock model, but I put those aside in an initial effort to give it a chance to prove itself from a strictly monetary basis; after all, I was willing to produce and sell in the RF arena when that was not a popular position to take. Having said all of this, and considering the current models in place, my basic conclusion is: a Microstock component in addition to a traditional stock photographer’s established traditional RF and RM content is a total waste of time. Spend the extra effort working toward creating better content for the traditional marketplace, RF and RM.

There is no doubt that the “stock photography marketing models” are now all moving targets, and tomorrow could bring huge changes. Our best defense is to keep informed, and to keep striving to create exceptional content, not just more and more “me, too” images.

I don’t know what your personal experience has been, but for most of us in stock, particularly in the RF arena, a glut of images has resulted in falling RPI (return per image) numbers…so we shoot more images, which increases the glut…do you see a way out of this vicious cycle?

I’m shooting less and thinking about what I’m shooting more. Microstock is taking over the volume game, so concentrating on quality content seems appropriate to me.

Your studio looks pretty incredible. Can you fill us in on how that came to be?

Assignment work allowed me to purchase my building and to finish it out. Stock sales allowed me to buy the very best equipment to fill it with.

What do you see the advantages and disadvantages of working in Lincoln, Nebraska?

On the positive side: real estate is very reasonable. I own my studio building, and live in a Victorian House on sixty acres. My main assignment client is located three blocks from my studio. There isn’t much competition. The traffic is light, and it’s a great place to raise a family.

On the negative side: There are no support services; no labs, (not that it matters anymore), there are no free-lance assistants, no model agency, no stylists, no prop houses, and no photo equipment rental operations. I also find it difficult to convince people to model for stock; they are willing to model for specific clients, but are hesitant to sign irrevocable unlimited talent releases. They want some control over how the images are used.

Can you show us a favorite stock image that you have created and tell us the story behind it?

Money tree photos ©Don Farrall

About ten years ago I created a money tree image. It was a composite created with Live Picture and Painter and Photoshop. It wasn’t very convincing, and had an obviously fake appearance. I was just learning these programs, and this was definitely an early effort. There were very few images of money trees in the stock photo offerings at the time, and this was a good concept with a broad appeal. It sold fairly well for many years. About two years ago I received a call from an Art Director who liked the image, but wanted to know if I had a version of the tree without any bills on it, an “empty money tree” to use along with the “full money tree” to illustrate an article. I remember thinking, “That’s a great idea, I should have done that,” but I hadn’t. I didn’t have an archive file of the empty tree, or a computer that would still run Live Picture to open it up even if I could have found it, so I wasn’t able to fulfill this need. However, the request became my reason for re-visiting this concept. A few months later I created a new “empty money tree”, and various steps between empty and full. This time around I built it for a white background and a grass-and-sky background. In addition, and with consideration for the current economic conditions, I thought it appropriate to break the money tree, and show it with the money falling to the ground. This second attempt looks a bit fake as well, or maybe on the positive side, a little more illustrative, but either way, they have sold fairly well. And this time I kept the composite parts.

There is a lot of buzz these days about video, especially now that the current crop of DSLRs all seem to shoot video. Do you shoot video, or have any plans to shoot video?

I purchased a Canon 5DMK2 when they first came out, thinking I could use it to learn something about video. I had used a “real” video camera in the past, and found the form- factor and limited adjustments of the 5D to be just way too inflexible. I figured if I was going to learn video, I should just buy a real video camera. So I did. I know a lot of people are making the DSLR’s work for video, but with all of the additional investment in support equipment and time that has followed, I feel like this was the wise choice for me. I have an ENG style Panasonic HD camera capable of 1080-24P and a myriad of other video flavors, and it will do for now. I am still in the learning process, but I am getting comfortable with the camera. I have already had a few clients ask me to let them know when I am ready to start shooting video for them. I am shooting stock clips as my practice. The sale of video clips is somewhat difficult to quantify, but like many still photographers, I am learning video because it appears to be the next expected skill to have mastered, and I have never been one to pass up an opportunity to learn something new.

I have been shooting for about the same time as you have, around thirty years now. I find it interesting to look back and see how much I have learned in just the last several years. Despite the falling prices, exploding competition and endless onslaught of technological advances I am still enjoying this career. I love getting up in the morning and getting to work. Do you still feel that way, and if so, what is it that gets you motivated in the morning?

I feel privileged to have been able to make my living doing daily what many, many people have chosen as a hobby. I enjoy the creative aspect, and I enjoy the respect and appreciation from clients who value what I have done for them. In some ways I find that appreciation missing in stock, because I hear so rarely from someone who uses one of my images. I enjoy every aspect of the process, so I suppose it is that enjoyment that gets me out the door and on my way to work every day.

What advice would you give to someone just getting started in photography?

That depends on their aspirations. Over the years I have had quite a few “would-be” photographers track me down to ask for advice. They want to know if they should go to school, or what school to go to. They ask me if I will hire them, or if anyone will hire them. They want to know what camera to buy, or how much they should charge for shooting a job.

If I spend much time with them, I can usually tell whether they will succeed in this, their possibly chosen field. It has little to do with how good a photographer they are at the time, and everything to do with how much passion they have. I realize this can be hard to quantify, but the passion comes through in enumerable ways. Now more than ever, there are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who want to be photographers, who want to make their living through photography. Anyone entering into this field must understand that there will be competitors out there who are willing to give 110% all the time in order to succeed; these people eat, breath and sleep this stuff. Thinking of photography as just a job like any other will not cut it, because the truly passionate and dedicated will crush the “it’s just a job” photographers every time. The competition level is way too high for anything less than seriously passionate and dedicated participants.

Any advice specifically for those moving into stock photography?

I used to counsel photographers about getting into stock and can be credited for bringing a handful of photographers, and even a few illustrators, through the process of securing a contract with Getty; back in the days when that was a Golden ticket. I would have to say that I am much less “Bullish” about it now. These are difficult times to be encouraging, so I suppose I would want to see someone’s work first before I answered that question for them.

Any final parting words you would like to leave us with?

John, I met you in San Francisco at a Photo Expo; I suppose it was around 1997. You introduced me to a killer software program, “Live Picture”, that was far more powerful than the PhotoShop of the day. I immediately bought it and put it to use. We met up again later in our careers as mutual warriors in the Stock Photo arena and shared a few good discussions in NYC, and have kept in touch since. You have always been very open and helpful to other photographers, and while I know you have ulterior motives in hosting this blog (the quest for SEO) you are continuing to give back to the photo community. You have built more than a fan base here. Thank you for sharing, and for your optimism.

And about that passion thing; I think it’s safe to say you have it, and that you will make it.

Don Farrall


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Studying Stock Photo Sales History And Drawing Conclusions

Shoot to your strength to create photos that are impactful, relavent to the market, and as timeless as possible.
Studying Sales History Of Stock Photos
I spent some time studying the sales history of my stock photos today. I have been keeping track of every sale since 2004, about the time I started shooting RF imagery. Up until that point, until I began shooting for Blend Images, I had limited my stock to Rights Managed images. When I started shooting for Blend I began to also handle the work of some associate photographers and had to keep track of royalty splits. At this point I have access to the sales history of about 1200 Rights Managed images and about 6,000 Royalty Fee images.

Variations In Styles and Subject Matter
Even better, I believe, most of the images in my sales database were actually photographed by photographers who work with me. That means that my sales history covers a wide variety of styles and subject matter. There are images from a total of 14 different photographers.

Long Life Spans And Best Selling Images

When I study the sales history the first thing that strikes me is that my conceptual Rights Managed images have a surprisingly long life span. Over the past six months three of my top twenty images, in terms of earnings, were created over ten years ago. My best selling image over the last six months is a rights managed image that I created fifteen years ago! My best selling royalty free picture was created five years ago. My second and seventh best selling royalty free images were created a little over three years ago. Even when I look at the top 100 images I am still struck by the number of images that exhibit a very long life. Of course, I suppose it could be that I and my cohorts could just be getting worse rather than better at our chosen profession…hope not!

Comparing Images
The next thing that strikes me is that comparing images can be very misleading. I think it might be better to compare shoots. Generally, you get more images from a given shoot, with Royalty Free than with Rights Managed. When I look at shoots, my two best money-producing shoots are royalty free. Most of my Rights Managed images, until very recently, were pretty much one-off undertakings. That is, I came up with a single idea and executed it. I no longer work that way, but with the bulk of my sales history that is what I am dealing with. Based on what I see in my sales history I think it remains important to shoot for both RM and RF.

Concepts, Business Images, Lifestyle And Conclusions

The third conclusion I get from looking at the images is that, for me, everything seems to sell. Concepts sell the best as far as individual images go, our business images tend to sell better than our lifestyle, but a few of the lifestyle images do really, really well. Not only that, but my core of active photographers are all doing equally well despite different approaches, subject matter, and styles.

Core Concepts And Supplemental Opportunities
So what the heck do I do with this information? The best selling images of my group tend to have long life spans; RM and RF both make money, and everything sells. I’ll let you know if I every really figure out what to do with that information. But for now I will just keep going on my path, devising shoots with a core concept and supplemental opportunities, and do my best to create images that have impact, are relevant to the market, and are as timeless as possible.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The biggest Challenge For Photographers And One Possible Answer

The ability to write is an important skill for helping get your photography seen by potential buyers.

Imagination, Execution and A Level Playing Field
When Photoshop first came out I was fond of saying that it eliminated the barriers between imagination and execution, and that it would level the playing field in photography as never before. Fast forward almost twenty years and we see the playing field has been leveled again. The Gate Keepers are gone, swept away by microstock and flickr. Microstock eliminate the barriers to participating in stock by allowing anyone to submit images. Now Getty has opened the doors to the “biggest” and “badest” traditional stock agency in town (OK, in the world). In just the last few weeks Getty has accepted over 50,000 images from 11,000 flickr photographers.

Flickr And Microstock Opening The Doors
Back in 1990 when I first began using Photoshop I believed that it would make photography skills less important and imagination and creativity much more important. Even though pretty much every image we see these days has been run through Photoshop, I wasn’t really very accurate with my predictions. Digital capture has perhaps been an even greater force for change, making photography easier, cheaper and quicker. And now we have flickr and Microstock and all the other similar entities all opening the doors to photographers everywhere.

The Biggest Challenge

As a stock photographer you are not just competing with other photographers, you are competing with the best individual images of dedicated photographers through out the world. But that is only one way in which the creativity bar has been raised. The biggest challenge facing us is that of being seen among the mountains of images out there.  That is where our creativity is again challenged. How do we get our work seen by those who will license it?

Words And Images

There are numerous answers to that question. Writing is one answer.  Adding words to your images can provide a huge boost in getting your work seen. There is, ahem, blogging, but there is also article writing, both for the Internet and for the printed page. Yesterday I ran across the most recent copy of Shutterbug magazine. The image on the cover, a shot of a Burmese fisherman on Inle Lake, caught my eye. I have been to Inle Lake several times, and have photographed some of those fishermen myself. It turns out that the cover photo was shot by a friend of mine, Maynard Switzer. As a matter of fact, I think I was in the boat next to his when he photographed that fisherman! But it is Maynard’s image on the cover of the magazine, not mine. He doesn’t just have the cover either. Maynard has three more pages in the magazine in an article he wrote about his transition from fashion shooter to travel photographer. Maynard's ability to write gets his work seen by a huge audience.

Blogs, Articles And Comments

There is no question that the ability to write well is a huge advantage for photographers right now. Writing gets you found in search engines, can get your images on the covers of magazines, and can make your proposals and estimates more effective. Writing can take the form of magazine articles, photography blogs and e-zine articles, but it can also be effective as well-thought out and informative comments on other people’s blogs. But whatever form your writing takes, the key is to actually do it. So what are you waiting for?

Friday, December 4, 2009

SEO: Opening Doors For Stock And Assignment Photography

 The song and dance of getting photography assignments vrs. optimizing your web site for both assignment and stock photos.

Stock And Assignments
I think about stock photos all the time, but every once-in-a-while I think about assignments. There are a lot of good things about assignments; Money, fresh ideas, subsidized stock, the camaraderie of working with bright, motivated people, did I mention money?  But there are some downsides too. They take a lot of time. There is pressure. There is having to do things that you don't want to be doing. There is the stress of working with idiots (or at least people who think differently than you do).  And, oh yes, there is getting the assignments, the song and dance routine that all of us working pros know so well!

Time, Energy And Money

Those of you who are in the assignment world know of what I am speaking. There is constantly putting books together, putting time, energy and money into figuring out the coolest look, compiling prospect lists, shooting for the book, taking out ads in source books, shipping portfolios, keeping track of portfolios and so forth. Then there are the estimates. It can take an enormous amount of time and effort to put together good, accurate estimates. Unless you are truly exceptional a lot of those estimates will turn out to be, well, if not a waste of time at least a less than optimal use of your time.

Books Open Doors

But like I said, assignments can be good. The last assignment I did brought in $130,000.00 after expenses. I would be open to more of those, particularly because I didn't spend any time seeking that assignment. It just came to me. It came to me because I had written a book on Photoshop (Adobe Masterclass: Photoshop Compositing With John Lund). They say you don't make money off of books, but books open doors for you. I didn't make appreciable money in royalties from my book, but my client said that they hired me because of it. That book opened many doors for me and some of them were quite rewarding!

Art Directors, Art Buyers, And Designers Looking For Me
So I am OK with assignments, when they come, and if they are right for me. But I have no desire to jump through hoops to get them. I prefer to put my energy into my stock photography. Part of that stock effort includes SEO to get more eyeballs onto my images. But effective SEO will bring more than just stock clients. Art directors, art buyers, designers and others who are looking for a photographer with the look and style that I offer will find me. These people will be looking for me as opposed to me struggling to find them and get their attention. How cool is that? Just last week a licensing agent contacted me, all excited about the work I am doing, and exclaimed, “It was so easy to find you!”  It has been a year of heavy SEO now, but it is starting to work.

SEO Opens Doors

Good SEO is like that book. It opens doors. In the short time I have been working on optimizing my site I have had a surprising number of opportunities come my way. Some of them include a contract with a wall d├ęcor company, negotiations underway for a line of greeting cards, and a possible calendar deal. I have also executed one assignment and turned a couple of others down.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I believe that it will probably be another year before my SEO really kicks in…at least in a big way. I am totally confident that I will look back and be truly glad that I put the time and effort into making my site come up early in appropriate searches.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

To Stop Photo Theft, The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

My "Animal Antics" funny animal pictures, such as these two bulldogs sumo wrestling, are my most infringed upon images.
Appropriated Images And Lost Opportunities
Sometimes it makes me a little crazy when I do a Google search for my images and find image after image appropriated with no reference to me at all.  The vast majority of these infringements are not worth chasing after, but they still annoy the heck out of me. I also can't help but wonder how all of these pictures, that I have worked so hard to create, being loose on the internet without my name represents a "dilution" or at least a lost opportunity in regards to my personal branding. But what to do? How can I defend against such image theft?

Minor Infractions And An Unhappy Ego

I few times I have tried to request that offenders take down my pictures, but the amount of time I have to invest in that is kind of ridiculous. When I complained to flickr about an infringement what they required of me to get them to take action, well, I looked at for a moment and said “aw the hell with it!”  Same deal with Squidoo, or innumerable other cases of bloggers and such making use of my photos; minor infractions with a lot of hassle to get my images taken down. Most of these cases of my purloined imagery hold absolutely no opportunity for any monetary gain, so it might just be a case of my unhappy ego, or as mentioned above, a dilution or loss of branding opportunity.

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

It has taken awhile, but I have come up with a defense strategy. In this case it is a return to the old maxim that "The Best Defense Is A Good Offense". That strategy is to get my images up as quickly as possible in any and all searches that might return them in the results, and to have my name on those images.  I put that name up as ©johnlund.com.  That way people know the images are copyrighted, and if they have half a brain (I might be generous here) they can find me to license the images, or at least ask for my permission. Recently I have had several examples of people tracking me down because they did see my images used somewhere and did have that credit line on them, so I know, that at least to some degree, that process can work.

SEO, Name And Copyright, And Personal Branding
I have already wholeheartedly committed to SEO and getting my images seen, but this adds just that much more incentive to do so. People only steal the images if they find them, therefore I want them to see my images first with my copyright and name clearly on them. That way there is a much higher probability that I will benefit at least in some way, and that outright theft will be lower. Years ago a friend and I created a company to distribute training films.  Our first film was titled "The Ten Billion Dollar Rip Off". It was a video to show to store employees detailing the damage of employee theft and the various repercussions.  Apparently, just showing that video to employees, significantly reduced employee theft.  Having your name and copyright notice on an image is a step in that direction. I don’t think it will stop non-commercial picture pilfering (love that phrase), but it will at least increase my name awareness, my personal branding, if you will, and will contribute to deterring commercial use of unauthorized images.