Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is it Still Viable To Make A Living In Stock Photography

Opportunity, Success, The future
As I was coming out of Whole Foods tonight with six small red potatoes and two salmon (farmed) filets, I ran into a young photographer whom I had first met about a week ago at a local photography event. He is familiar with my stock photo work and had a question for me. His question, “Is it still viable to get into stock photography?”

Simple question, and the simple answer is “yes”. But there is a huge caveat there! I used to encourage everyone I met to get into stock photography. I still think it is an awesome career choice, but now I have a very difficult time encouraging people to get into it. Earning a good living at stock photography is definitely harder now than it used to be. So what determines whether or not you will succeed at it?

I think you can boil it down to three factors; Desire, openness and perseverance. Let’s look at desire first. A few nights ago I was feeling pretty fed up with working. I calculated how many hours I put into work. Generally speaking, I average 73 hours a week. No wonder I was feeling fed up! That number even surprised me. I have been shooting stock since 1989 and shooting nothing but stock for at least seven years. And here I still am putting those kinds of hours in. Good thing I love doing the work. While I don’t necessarily believe that other people have to put the same number of hours in that I do, I do believe that it takes more hours than you would put in if you had a 9 to 5 job. You have to want to succeed in this business badly enough to put in the hours, and to do all the things that aren’t fun. Those un-fun things will be different things to different people. For me, bookkeeping, finding models and locations, entering metadata, and trouble shooting computers are part of what I would really prefer to not have to do. But do them I do.

Openness might be something that you haven’t thought of as a requirement for success in stock, but it is one of the most important qualities. You can get a lot further a lot faster in this business if you are open to hearing what others in the business have to say. It is a constant struggle for me to put aside my own beliefs and hear what art directors and creative directors have to say. What they have to say about what needs to be shot and how it needs to be shot. I have to be open to hearing what people have to say about my work and how to improve it. When Jack Hollingsworth and Shalom Ormsby both told me I should be blogging…I really didn’t want to do it. But I listened, and now I actually am enjoying it. It isn’t easy being open to all the changes going on in stock, but if you want to thrive and prosper, you have to.

Perhaps the most important quality of all is perseverance. This business takes time, and a lot of it. Not only does every aspect of it take time, but there will be discouragements too. As a matter of fact, I got one today…I got my Getty Sales report. Let’s not think about that right now. While time to market in many cases has increased exponentially, some agencies can still take months to get your images up, and additional months to collect and distribute royalties. With many of my RM images have seen sales take off after as much as two or in a couple of cases, three years before the first sale! Your going to have your work senselessly rejected, get ridiculously small sales, and experience insane income fluctuations, but you have to take it all in stride and stay focused on creating great work, relevant to the market, and working like crazy to get that work in front of those who need it.

There are many different ways to make it work. People succeed at Micro, at RM and at RR. They make money with stills and with video. Some produce volumes of work and others produce jewels. There is a way that will work for you if you have the desire, the openness, and the perseverance.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Landing On Your Feet In Tough Times

There are a couple of principles that I have built my photography business around, principles that just might help you land on your feet in tough times. Those principles are: Basing my business around income producing assets and multiple income streams. Long ago I made a conscious decision to focus on producing images that would bring in a continuing revenue stream. Later, when I got involved in the greeting card industry, I realized that it would also be a good idea to diversify my photography to generate a separate income stream.

For a time my income streams included assignments, stock and what is called paper products. Paper products covers products that have your photos imprinted on them and can range from coffee mugs and mouse pads to greeting cards and calendars. When creating my Animal Antics images, pets in anthropomorphic poses and situations, I have generally tried to keep the paper product rights myself. The idea is that I can get royalties from the distributors of products which can generate considerably more income than if the same images were licensed for a one time fee through a stock agency.

While I am still keeping the stock and paper products income streams going, I haven’t done an assignment in years. Now I am adding an additional income stream through advertising on my site. Right now that is in the form of Google click-through ads. Eventually it may include other advertising.

A lot of my fellow photographers question my wisdom on including advertising on my site, but I really think the potential of the advertising out weighs the relatively unobtrusive Google ads. I also believe, especially since I am not seeking assignment work, that if someone is looking to fill a particular image need, and they find a suitable image on my site, the advertising isn’t going to bother them. Time will tell.

Another venture I am currently undertaking is adding a video component to my stock (see video below). A side benefit from undertaking the video is learning new skills. While initially very reticent, I am now enjoying learning Final Cut Pro and am starting to think a little more in the way of motion. Another plus is my enjoyment of collaborating with others in undertaking video projects.

All of us photographers need to at least be aware of what alternate income streams might be available to us. Just taking a quick mental survey of photographers I personally know actually brings up quite a few possibilities. I know of one photographer who does quite well leading photo tours to exotic locations. Subsidized, income-producing stock sorties…not a bad gig if you can swing it! Another photographer I know supplements his income with weekend seminars in his field of expertise. Still others are offering online education.

Many additional income streams can be set up to be minimally intrusive on your time. Selling prints through a company like Imagekind, retail products through Cafepress or Zazzle, or even the aforementioned Google ads, are good examples. A word of caution though, doing a thorough job of setting up a program with a company like CafePress, or even Imagekind, does require a lot of upfront time.

A final word about finding supplemental income streams. My experience has been that any time I push myself beyond my normal zone of comfort it has been a positive experience. When you add up the benefits, additional income, insurance against market fluctuations, and acquiring new skills, well, the effort is bound to help you land on your feet!