Friday, November 27, 2009

Doom, Gloom And Rays of Hope In The Photo World

Picture of Vultures Circling in a concept photo of Doom and Gloom

Lighthouse in a storm, a classic stock photo of hope and guidance
Doom, Gloom And A Vast Sea Of Images
I have just spent several hours exploring flickr. My first reaction was one of gloom and doom. There are some insanely great photos, some truly creative photography, and there is a LOT of it! But there are also a lot of ho hum pictures as well. It is interesting to see my emotional state swing from one extreme to the other while perusing that vast sea of images. Sometimes it seems as if there is so much talent, and so many wonderful photos out there that my future as a stock photographer is doomed. But then, every once-in-a-while, I realize that I have been going through a whole lot of images that are, at best, average. In addition, many of the truly wonderful photos I am seeing on flickr do not necessarily solve the visual needs of those who license photography.

Hope For The Future

I do see hope for the future here. I see an opportunity in creating images that do fill those visual needs of businesses everywhere, and in making it easy for buyers to find those images. I wish there was an easy solution for providing "personal use" licenses for the masses to use in all those non-commercial ways that pop up, from personalized computer desktops to homework assignments. I believe that is part of the long-term solution for the new "Glory Days of Stock".

Money To Spend And Stock Agencies

Right now, I think that, for better or worse, most of the money to be made is still in the hands of the stock agencies. The vast majority of people with money to spend on photography are still going to stock agencies. There are the occasional stories of shooters who are flourishing in stock photography without the use of stock agencies (Dan Heller and Jim Erickson are two who come to mind with very different approaches), but for most of us the agencies still offer the eyeballs (eyeballs with dollars) and the administration and logistics that are very difficult to handle either when you are just starting out or when you don't have or don't want a staff, particularly if you are dealing, as I am, with a lot of Rights Managed imagery.

Be Proactive And Pay Attention

While I am still doing quite well at stock, my revenues have certainly dipped, and I am definitely concerned and seeking ways that I can keep my business and lifestyle going in the manner to which I have become accustomed. I do believe it is important to be trying a variety of things, to be very proactive, and to pay very careful attention to what is working and what isn't. To bad it takes so long to find that out! But remember that old saying, "Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained". At least if you are trying different approaches you are moving and if you are moving you can always apply course corrections. If you aren't moving you just might sink.

Creativity, Dedication, And Good Business Practices
Getting back to flickr for a moment, looking at all those images reinforced in me a truth that has existed for the entire length of my thirty-plus years as a professional photographer. That truth is that the photographers who consistently stay at the top of the game are not only creative and dedicated; they are also very good business people. As a matter of fact, some of them are very good business people and not that great at photography!

Flickr, Great Photos And The Business Of Photography
What I take away from my exploration of flickr is that it is much easier to produce great photography than it is to be great at the business of photography. It just may well be that applying your creativity to the business end of the profession will pay off much more handsomely than putting that creativity into the image, though of course, I advocate both. For me, the business of photography means testing the waters, albeit carefully, of new markets. It means tracking sales to help understand what works, without falling into the trap of repetition, and it means paying attention to the big picture which includes everything from generating traffic to understanding what my true costs are.


jerseystylephotography said...

Gary Chapman Tweeted this and I very much agree. As someone on Flickr (Mark ~ JerseyStyle Photography), and as someone who tries to produce good + nice + great photos, I don't try to kid myself that I have the chops to do what you pros either, either behind the lens or from the business side.

You all excel in a number of ways. Yeah, we may get a nice image now and again...but we won't make a career out of it. At least 99.5% of us won't. We will continue to be inspired and to try to keep getting better. And to further our love of photography!

John Lund said...


The internet has opened the door for non-professional photographers to add their photos to the marketplace. You may not have the experience or want to put in the concerted effort to make a career of it, but you do produce fantastic images that compete with pros...and it has changed the landscape of professional photography for ever.

Now it is up to us professionals to adapt or...oh well.

Thanks for adding your comment!