Thursday, April 2, 2009

The most dependable income

The most dependable income

I just read on the net that a study showed the most dependable way to earn money is to win a novelty half-time contest at a basketball game that requires sinking a basket from the half-court line. Apparently mathematical calculation also took into consideration that the consolation prize often includes a food item from the concession stand.

Yesterday, for just a few moments, I overhead a radio show in which the topic was recession-proof jobs. I heard the radio announcer say that the most recession-proof job was high school portrait photographer. He pointed out that no matter how bad things get parents will always want high school portraits of their children, especially high school graduation pictures.

My stock photo income

That got me to thinking. Right now my stock photography income is down about 18%. Now that is a lot, but I personally know four people who have lost their jobs in the last three months. Having my income dip by twenty percent isn’t nearly as devastating as losing my job. Even down by twenty percent stock photography is a cash cow for me!

Job security, a misconception

That brings up what I believe is an interesting misconception. Many people I have spoken to over the years cite security as the reason they wouldn’t want to be self-employed. Let me give you a couple of examples of “employment security”. My sister-in-law was working for Bank of America as a writer. Within a week of winning an award and being cited for her work by her supervisor, the entire department was let go. Surprise! A friend of mine was a senior art director for a greeting card company for many years. A venture capital firm bought the company and then proceeded to sell off the assets tell there was nothing left. So much for that job security! Self-employed people have far more security. We can measure what we earn from our efforts. Nobody else takes the blame; nobody else can claim the rewards. Our futures are in nobody’s hands except for our own.

As a stock photographer I feel exceptionally lucky in these difficult economic times. Sure, there are lots of those who are predicting the demise of the whole industry do to Micro stock, a glut of images and large agencies that don’t care about the interests of individual photographers. OK, so maybe I have to work a little smarter and a little harder. I can do that, and since I love what I do I don’t mind it.

The stock picture industry has become more interesting

In fact, the whole industry has become more interesting to me now that I have to really think about what I am doing. I am optimizing my site to increase sales both through traditional channels and directly to industry players and to the public. I am thinking more strategically in what I shoot and how I shoot it. I am paying attention to my sales and I am not forgetting that creativity is paramount. The changes in the industry and the economic climate have pushed me to collaborate more and I love it. I am growing more than I ever have.

The ultimate security

Further, as a stock photographer I can see my income rise or fall and take appropriate action. I don’t wake up one day and find that I am out of a job and have no income! Being self-employed as a photographer offers me far more security than any staff position. I am responsible for my self and my success or failure. I am under no (OK, few) illusions. That is the ultimate security!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Finding Opportunities in problems

Tired and packing up

We had just completed a long day of shooting business situations in an office in downtown Buenos Aires for our stock photo collection. We were all tired as we began to pack up our equipment and various props…and attempt to return the office to the condition it was before we started.

My young Argentine stylist was putting a large hourglass back into its box when she slipped. The hourglass plummeted to the floor and the glass bowl shattered. She was distraught over the breakage, so I told her not to worry, I would take care of everything. “What could it cost”, I thought to myself.

Language difficulties and repairs

Back at the prop house (still in Buenos Aires), the manager insisted that I had to return the hourglass in original condition. Oh boy. Let me interject here that I do not speak Spanish particularly well. My argentine assistant told me I speak Spanish “Like Tarzan”. Do to language difficulties I ended up hiring an assistant for an entire day to help me track down a glass blower and have the hourglass repaired. By the time I got the hourglass back to the prop house I had spent ten times the rental fee of the hourglass.

An impromptu shoot

However, back in my temporary apartment after the shoot, having nothing better to do, I set up a make shift studio (using light stands, a Profoto 7B with a couple of heads, and a black velvet cloth I always take with me on location shoots) and shot the various components of the broken hourglass (the wooden frame, broken pieces of glass, and sand). Then, on my laptop, I was able to create the accompanying image of an exploding timepiece.

Concept stock photo and the last laugh

In a way, I got the last laugh. Had we not broken the hourglass this image would have never been created. This conceptual stock image has more than returned the cost of renting and repairing the prop, and will keep on returning income for the foreseeable future!

Whenever something unexpected happens (note I did not say bad….just unexpected), look for the bright side. See if there is some way to turn an apparent misfortune into a positive experience. Most of the time I bet you can!

Monday, March 30, 2009

What it takes to succeed in stock photography

Immense sums of money

One photographer I know tracks his sales closely because he primarily wants to know which models are selling best. In his experience the model makes or breaks the shoot. Another photographer has found that most of his sales come from scenic locations that he shoots throughout the world. For him, the location is paramount. Among the successful shooters of stock that I personally know there are an incredible range of styles and approaches. One shoots everything in his studio. Another spends most of his time traveling the world. Yet another incorporates a lot of 3D into his work. One shoots almost all portraits. All of these photographers make immense sums of money from stock photography. And they all do it differently.

Time and effort equal success

What is it that they all have in common that has propelled them to such success?
They are all driven. Like Olympic athletes, they all put enormous quantities of time and effort into their work. I routinely put in sixty hours a week, and I suspect that my example photographers tend to put far more time than that in to their efforts. I know for sure at least three of them do. The stock photographers that I know that have reached a very high level of earning eat, breathe, and sleep stock photography. I believe they are the kind of people that would be tremendously successful at anything they undertook.

Stock photographers have interest and passion

One thing that surprises me: Despite the overwhelming amount of time they put into their businesses, into their careers as stock photographers, they also seem even more knowledgeable than most people about things that have nothing to do with photography. They are well informed on current events. They have a firm grasp on history. They understand technology. They are interested and passionate about life on this planet. I have also found each and every one of these super successful photographers to be kind and generous.

Ideas, sensibilities and fashion

I guess it isn’t just one quality that is the predictor of their success. It is a combination of passion, interest and elbow grease. By being interested in life they assimilate the ideas, sensibilities and fashion of our societies' movers and shakers. By being passionate they have the motivation to continually learn and improve all aspects of their lives. And by having the drive to do the work, they are able to pull it all together to create and deliver images of value and relevance to the marketplace. This passion for life prepares them, like highly trained athletes, to have the flexibility and skill to adapt to changing situations, to intuitively know what images to produce, what changes to make to their business models.

Your success is inevitable

If you want to succeed in stock photography, be passionate and committed to your photography; be involved in your community, be interested in the life around you. Live with compassion, kindness and generosity. If you can do those things your success will be inevitable.