Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is it Still Viable To Make A Living In Stock Photography

Opportunity, Success, The future
As I was coming out of Whole Foods tonight with six small red potatoes and two salmon (farmed) filets, I ran into a young photographer whom I had first met about a week ago at a local photography event. He is familiar with my stock photo work and had a question for me. His question, “Is it still viable to get into stock photography?”

Simple question, and the simple answer is “yes”. But there is a huge caveat there! I used to encourage everyone I met to get into stock photography. I still think it is an awesome career choice, but now I have a very difficult time encouraging people to get into it. Earning a good living at stock photography is definitely harder now than it used to be. So what determines whether or not you will succeed at it?

I think you can boil it down to three factors; Desire, openness and perseverance. Let’s look at desire first. A few nights ago I was feeling pretty fed up with working. I calculated how many hours I put into work. Generally speaking, I average 73 hours a week. No wonder I was feeling fed up! That number even surprised me. I have been shooting stock since 1989 and shooting nothing but stock for at least seven years. And here I still am putting those kinds of hours in. Good thing I love doing the work. While I don’t necessarily believe that other people have to put the same number of hours in that I do, I do believe that it takes more hours than you would put in if you had a 9 to 5 job. You have to want to succeed in this business badly enough to put in the hours, and to do all the things that aren’t fun. Those un-fun things will be different things to different people. For me, bookkeeping, finding models and locations, entering metadata, and trouble shooting computers are part of what I would really prefer to not have to do. But do them I do.

Openness might be something that you haven’t thought of as a requirement for success in stock, but it is one of the most important qualities. You can get a lot further a lot faster in this business if you are open to hearing what others in the business have to say. It is a constant struggle for me to put aside my own beliefs and hear what art directors and creative directors have to say. What they have to say about what needs to be shot and how it needs to be shot. I have to be open to hearing what people have to say about my work and how to improve it. When Jack Hollingsworth and Shalom Ormsby both told me I should be blogging…I really didn’t want to do it. But I listened, and now I actually am enjoying it. It isn’t easy being open to all the changes going on in stock, but if you want to thrive and prosper, you have to.

Perhaps the most important quality of all is perseverance. This business takes time, and a lot of it. Not only does every aspect of it take time, but there will be discouragements too. As a matter of fact, I got one today…I got my Getty Sales report. Let’s not think about that right now. While time to market in many cases has increased exponentially, some agencies can still take months to get your images up, and additional months to collect and distribute royalties. With many of my RM images have seen sales take off after as much as two or in a couple of cases, three years before the first sale! Your going to have your work senselessly rejected, get ridiculously small sales, and experience insane income fluctuations, but you have to take it all in stride and stay focused on creating great work, relevant to the market, and working like crazy to get that work in front of those who need it.

There are many different ways to make it work. People succeed at Micro, at RM and at RR. They make money with stills and with video. Some produce volumes of work and others produce jewels. There is a way that will work for you if you have the desire, the openness, and the perseverance.


David Sanger said...

Thanks John,

Years ago when I first started I was told there were four things needed to be successful in photography:

talent, persistence, persistence and persistence

I hope they are enough these days.

John Lund said...


I hope I have enough!
Thanks for the comment....


Luis said...

I have been reading your blog for a while since I started "microstock" photography, and your posts are a big base of my inspiration, thanks for everything and keep writing!


John Lund said...


Thanks for the feedback!


David Sanger said...

John - thought you'd like this from a VC

The Anatomy of Determination

"We learned quickly that the most important predictor of success is determination. At first we thought it might be intelligence. Everyone likes to believe that's what makes startups succeed. It makes a better story that a company won because its founders were so smart. The PR people and reporters who spread such stories probably believe them themselves. But while it certainly helps to be smart, it's not the deciding factor. There are plenty of people as smart as Bill Gates who achieve nothing.

In most domains, talent is overrated compared to determination—partly because it makes a better story, partly because it gives onlookers an excuse for being lazy, and partly because after a while determination starts to look like talent."

John Lund said...


I LOVE that!


David Sanger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Sanger said...

Smart guy that Paul Graham