Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Light at the End of the Tunnel

The light at the end of the tunnel: the Internet.

Photographers are under duress

Most photographers feel under duress these days. Assignment photographers are feeling the stress of losing work to stock photography. Macro stock photographers are feeling the stress of losing work to Micro stock. Micro stock shooters are feeling the stress of traditional shooters now competing with them in Micro stock. All of us are feeling the stress of the economic downturn. Photo schools are churning out competition at record rates. Designers are doing their own work with Photoshop. The Internet is driving the advertisers away from print advertising. Corbis is lowering their royalty rates; Getty is offering Flicker photographers entry into stock…but at lower rates than their other photographers.

In the face of all these dismal thoughts I have found an oasis of happiness! Studies show that having the feeling of control (even if it is an illusion) makes us happier. As a stock photographer I am used to making images and fighting with Getty and Corbis and others to get my images accepted. Then it has been up to the agencies to market my work and hopefully collect fees and pay me my royalty. There is a heck of a lot in my career as a stock photographer that I cannot control. The result is frustration and unhappiness.

Taking control

I have, however, found a light at the end of a tunnel. I am feeling like I do have a measure of control now. The web is empowering me. I can watch the traffic to my site increase week-after-week. That feels good! I can see when people go from my site to Caf├ęPress, Imagekind, Blend, Getty and Corbis. This is all very new to me; I don’t yet know what my conversion rates are or will be. I do know this: My plan is working. My traffic is steadily going up, people are clicking on PPC ads, I am starting to sell prints, and visitors are going from my site to the agencies that represent my work.


More specifically, four months ago when I started this project I was literally getting about 1 person a week to my site. Yesterday I had almost 800. Over fifty people went on to Blend, Getty, Corbis or Kimball (stock agencies that carry my work). A couple of people went to CafePress and at least one person went to Imagekind. I also got a request from a teacher for a free print for her class, a request from an owner of a dog salon for one of my images for her signage (uh, also for free), and one person telling me I had a broken link. Oh yeah, and I made $2.37 on Google ads! Hey, pays for coffee!

As an added bonus, I am enjoying this new expanded web experience! I find I like blogging, I like learning new information, gleaning various tidbits from Twitter and getting to know other photographers through Internet interaction. Sometimes I do feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, but for the most part it is an enjoyable experience.

Replace depression with energy

Even with all the time I am spending on the Internet, I am still being more productive in making images too. Because I feel like I have control over my destiny I am invigorated. I am excited and enthusiastic and want to make more images. Depression kills productivity and creativity, and feeling like I have control replaces depression with energy.

There are so many ways the Internet can help us in our photography businesses. We can sell our images, we can create and build our brand, we can drive traffic to sites that license our work, we can learn more about our art and our craft, we can market our assignment work and we can network with others that have similar interests. For me, the Internet really seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel!

Monday, March 9, 2009

The case for quality

The case for Quality

At the User Generated Content Expo there was one common theme that kept coming through no matter who the speaker was. That theme was that quality content is key to success. I believe this is an especially important point for stock photographers. Further, that is true whether you are shooting for Rights Managed, Royalty Free or Microstock.

Quality images will rise to the top

The internet has leveled the playing field. It has leveled the playing field in a number of ways. No longer is the world of stock photography open to the few with contracts with the major stock agencies; now anyone can participate. Too, buyers can now compare, instantly, images and prices from across the world. It doesn’t make a difference whether you are competing in Macrostock or Microstock. Sooner, rather than later, the quality images will rise to the top and the lesser images will disappear into the darkness of the seldom or never seen. And that darkness is growing. As the number of images available increases, the chances of anyone seeing any one image decreases. The fundamental problem in selling stock on the internet is rapidly becoming one of being seen. And one answer to that problem is in offering quality work. That is true both for the individual photographer and the agency.

Quality images don’t have to be expensive to produce. You can spend thousands of dollars on a single image, or nothing at all. It isn’t about what it cost to make the image, or what you hoops you jumped through; it is all about the image. A great image can be a grab shot, or an elaborate production, or anything in between.

Your images represent you

Be proud of each and every image you submit. If you aren’t proud of it, don’t submit it. Just as important as creating great imagery is that you don’t dilute your work with the mediocre. It is difficult to be a good judge of your own work, but it is important to constantly work at building your discipline, at being your own harshest critic. Your images are more than just images; they also represent you.

Any resources you utilize to create less than great work is going to be increasingly wasted as those images become more and more eclipsed by better ones. But more importantly, as the distributors struggle to find ways to cut through the clutter and offer their clients more efficient searches and more relevant material, it is quite likely that your body of work will be taken into consideration as well. We can already see that happening at Alamy and iStockphotos, and probably others that I am not familiar with as well.

It will be important to build your own brand, if you will. I think it is a mistake to sit back and rely on the agencies to market your stock. Be proactive. Build your brand. Make your life about quality.

If you make your life about quality, your work will certainly follow. If you make images that you are proud of, images that will solve the problems of others, and if you are proactive in building your brand and insuring that your images are seen, you will be successful.---