Thursday, July 16, 2009

Intention: A Powerful Tool For Success In Stock Photography

Future, City Skyline, Future City, Metropolis
INTENTION is one of the most powerful tools you have at hand for achieving success in the stock photography business. I have written several times about generating stock photo ideas, and that I believe “Intention” is the primary tool for doing so. That is, having the INTENT to come up with a stock photo idea makes practically any other endeavor in that direction work.

I think the same thing is true when trying to learn from looking at the photography of others. Have the INTENT to learn something. It is a great exercise to decide consciously that you are going to learn something from looking at other photographer’s work. That “something” might be lighting or propping and styling or Photoshop effects. Whatever it is, if you set the intention first then look at pictures, the learning is almost guaranteed.

This morning I came into work and had the INTENT to create a stock photo from existing files that I had on hand. I keep a large number of images in a folder I call“Resource Images”. I continually add to the folder and occasional purge images. This repository, or library of images provides me with such “parts” as skies, backgrounds, textures and occasionally, people, to utilize as necessary in the creation of my stock photos.

This library of pictures also acts as a kind of idea playground for me. Often I will decide to create an image on the spur of the moment and turn to these images for ideas as well as for parts. I will find an image that catches my eye and start to play with it, putting it in different backgrounds, maybe combining the image with another, or altering it in some way, to create a viable stock shot.

Sometimes I find all the parts I need to create an image, sometimes I get an idea but need to shoot some more to bring the idea to fruition, and sometimes it is just an exercise in frustration. This morning things came together and I was able to create a stock photo and send it off to an agency for consideration (in this case I sent the photo to my editor at Corbis). I’ll let you know how it turns out!

The image (above) is a fabricated skyline, a cityscape of some future metropolis that doesn’t actually exist, except on my computer. The idea germinated as I looked at a skyline shot taken in Buenos Aires. The buildings looked very cool and futuristic. It occurred to me that a whole skyline of ultra modern buildings could be a very useful concept image for stock. I picked through my digital files finding some skyline shots of San Francisco that I could mine for buildings. I used Photoshop to combine and alter some of the buildings and to simply stretch-out and adjust the color of others.

I made sure that the finished image could be cropped either as a vertical or horizontal. This image isn’t going to set the world on fire, but I will be willing to bet that it sells reasonably well…and it only cost me a couple of hours work…nothing more.

Because I don’t see this image selling like gang busters I have submitted it for RM where there is actually more flexibility in pricing than in RF, where I get a larger percentage of each sale, and where there is always the possibility of a truly large sale. Large sales do still happen. Last month Getty sold one of my images for $18,000.00+. My share was over $8,000.00. Stock isn’t dead yet!

Getting back to my original point, intention is a potent tool for so much of what we do in stock photography; for coming up with ideas, for learning, and for creating images. Get in the habit of setting conscious intention; cool things happen when you do!

Monday, July 13, 2009

One Photographer's Criteria for Successful Stock Photos

Falling Piano about to hit a businessman illustrating Risk, danger and inattention

I had a minor epiphany today. I was talking with my brother and he commented that my stock photos were fun to look at. It instantly occurred to me that “fun to look at” might actually be a good standard by which to judge whether an image idea will make a successful stock photo. Certainly my favorite images to make are ones that are fun to look at.

I use File Maker Pro to keep records of all my stock sales. I took a look at my sales for the past five years and ranked them. Almost without exception my best selling images were fun to look at. They either contained a high element of humor or drama. These images are entertaining. It makes sense too. Given the choice between an image with a high entertainment value and an image that isn’t such fun to look at, it makes perfect sense that clients will choose the former.

While it is a bit unrealistic for me to only create those entertaining images, certainly that is what I am focusing on. They sell the best and I enjoy making them the most. That being said, when I set up a shoot for one of my ideas there are inevitably opportunities to create lesser images that make financial sense. For example, I have an upcoming shoot in a surgery center. I have several “main” ideas that I am eager to do. But as long as I have a surgery center at my disposal it makes sense to shoot some of the more pedestrian images that can fulfill a need in the market place. Shots of patients in the waiting room, of doctors and patients consulting and so forth. Naturally, I can and will continue to do some of those images. It just makes good business sense. However, at this point I will limit those “filler” images to ones that naturally evolve from the images I am drawn to create.

For moving a stock photo idea to a photographic reality my new criteria is that the finished image must be:

Fun To Look At
Have a message applicable to the market place
Be a quick read even at thumbnail size
Make an emotional connection
Have an unexpected Twist
Be fun for me to create

Keep in mind; these are my goals for my own work. Certainly other criteria will be more appropriate for other photographers. And my images certainly don’t need to fit all of those criteria. If an image fulfills two or three of them then the image is probably worth doing. And finally, as promised a blog or two ago, above is my falling piano image. I hope it is fun for you to look at!