Monday, May 25, 2009

A Stock Photo Strategy For Photographers

A Stock Photo Strategy

A former photo assistant and friend of mine, now on her own, just asked me to help her devise a strategy for her to incorporate stock photography in to her new and growing business. I know she is quite adept at the technical end of photography, has good ideas, thinks conceptually, and knows how to use Photoshop.

My advice to her is to shoot for her book (in the world of professional photography your “book” is your portfolio). When I first started out around thirty years ago my mentor at that time told me “always keep shooting for your book”. That advice is as sound today as it was then. You can push your own work further than you can when you are constrained by the limits of an assignment (OK, that may not be true on some rare assignments…but for the most part it is true). You can shoot the kind of work you want to get, the kind of work that speaks to your passion. The work you shoot for your self can be a much more accurate expression of who you are as an artist, and where you want to go.

As I said, my advice to her is to shoot for her book, and make each shot a masterpiece for stock as well. Particularly when shooting for RM nothing is out of bounds. I remember long ago shooting an image for my own book, back when I actually did assignment work. I photographed a man with a shaved head, turned him blue and had flames coming from his head. I sat on that image for quite some time before sending it to a stock agency. “Who the heck could use that for what?” was my reasoning. But eventually I did send the image to Getty, who promptly rejected it. So I sent it, dubiously, to an agency then known as The Stock Market (later bought by Corbis). They ran the image as the cover of their primary catalog. The first sale that image made was for $17,000.00, and it has sold many times since then. That was a lesson for me, and can be one for you too. Shoot for your book, and make the image available as stock, whether through an agency or through your own site. I can think of no down side to making great images available for stock.

When you are shooting for yourself you are quite likely to come up with a much stronger image than when you start trying to create something that will sell. If you succeed in making a truly arresting photograph, then the creativity of the art directors, art buyers, or editors that see the image will allow them to find ways to use that photo in the service of their client’s products and services. You will get more exposure and possibly a nice chunk of change too.