Friday, August 28, 2009

Dangerous Moments In Stock Photography

Dangerous Moments in Photography

I have been lucky. I have seldom been hurt during a shoot. But there have been some close calls, and, yes, I have suffered a few injuries. This is the story of one of those injuries, and let it be a warning and a wake up call to all my fellow photographers.

It began innocently enough. I was given a chance to beta test a software/hardware interface for shooting with a Phantom HD, a high speed video camera, by GVS Systems. It was a chance I couldn't refuse, as those puppies run about $5,000.00 a day to rent (with comparable software and hardware set ups). I arranged to work with friend and fellow photographer David Fischer. We were shooting in David's studio, a spacious, South of Market concrete building in San Francisco.

It had been a long day. We had covered a lot of ground shooting everything from tossing salads to water splashes to even balloons filled with propane gas. I had a near miss that morning when my first attempt at igniting a balloon filled with propane flared up a tad more vigorously than I had planned, but there were no lingering ill effects save for the smell of burned hair that permeated the studio through the rest of the day.

No, my injury didn't come from playing with propane. It was, as I have mentioned, at the end of the day. We were doing the last shoot (isn't always the last shoot?). It was an extreme close up of a soda can...and I was opening the pop top. Can you picture in ultra slow motion (1000 frames per second) the top being pulled off, the blast of spray and fizz, followed by a surge of frothing liquid? Not! The first shot produce a mere wisp of vapor. For the second attempt I shook the can before opening. A hiccup of vapor and a few bubbles popped out. Hmmmm, this time I shook the can more vigorously and even pounded it a couple of times on the counter top. Now we were getting somewhere! A healthy spritz of foam followed by a small geyser of foam bubbling out.

Now part of the problem was that I hadn't really anticipated the soda shot. It was just something we thought of at the last moment. We only had a few cans, and now only one was left. This one had to be good. No, it had to be great! I shook the can, then I shook it some more. I pounded it on the counter. I squatted down to the floor and pounded it on the hard concrete.

Suddenly, the can sprang a leak! Our last can! But there was still time! I leapt to my feet in an attempt to get the can in position and rip off the top. Well, I tried to leap to my feet. Instead, my feet slipped on the floor, slick from the stream of fluid shooting from the ruptured can. Now it wasn't the camera shooting in slow motion, but rather my vision of myself as my momentum brought me to a waist high horizontal position, where it felt like I hung for just a moment, before slamming to the floor. I lay there, struggling to catch my breath, half wondering how many bones I had broken and half being aware of the wetness spreading across my body from the still spurting can.

Hey, it hurt like hell and it took me three days before I could walk comfortably again!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Generosity, Attitude And Possibility

A little over a week ago somebody parked their trailer in the parking spaces alongside my studio. They are public spaces, but I still felt a little put upon. I really didn’t want someone’s trailer being stored there. Apparently I wasn’t the only one as the property manager dropped in on me and asked if I knew anything about the trailer. I told her I didn’t, and was about to add my own complaints about the trailer, but decided that, as the trailer really wasn't hurting anything, I would just keep my complaint to myself. I just decided to let it go.

The next day as I walked out of the studio and glanced over at the trailer I thought to myself “what a good looking little trailer”. Then it hit me what a great stock photo I could create around it. The trailer is one of those small shiny aluminum Airstream numbers, in essence, a giant mirror. Where it was parked wouldn’t work for my photography. I decided to keep an eye out for the owners.

The next morning I saw someone was working on the trailer. I introduced myself, complimented them on their trailer, and asked what they were doing. They were very enthusiastic in telling me about how they were preparing it for their upcoming trip to Burning Man. I asked if I could shoot the trailer for a stock photo, and they assured me it would be no problem. When it came time for them to move the trailer I had them pull it out and line it up for me so that it matched the lighting for the background that I wanted to put it into.

The Airstream trailer has a cool factor that would make it key for my image. I could put the trailer into a vast empty plain to illustrate a concept like “solitude”, I could put it in front of a tropical beach to illustrate “getting away from it all”, or I could place the trailer in an urban environment to illustrate concepts such as “ideas” or “bizarre”.

Eventually I will end up using this trailer photograph in a myriad of ways. I couldn’t have asked for an easier set-up. I only had to step out of my office door a few feet to get the shot, spent no time scouting for the trailer, and didn’t have to spend any money. The important point in this story is really about generosity, attitude and possibilities. I started off with a sort of antagonistic attitude that really benefited no one. When I changed my attitude, when I became a bit more generous in that attitude, then the doors opened up for my ideas and creativity.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Targeted Approach To Stock Photography

We stock shooters are facing some huge challenges, and things certainly aren’t as easy as they used to be. But opportunities still exist. To succeed we need to be targeted. We have to know our target audience, know how we can reach them, and know our unique strengths that make our work right for that market. There are a number of photographers and stock entities that we can turn to for inspiration.

I look at the work of Colin Anderson and can’t believe that he won’t continue to do well. He knows whom he wants to reach…the image buyers who recognize quality and have the money and willingness to pay appropriately for it. Colin is creating images that others without his creativity and DRIVE just can’t. He has learned how to use 3D and combine it with photography to create his unique vision.

Dan Heller takes an entirely different approach. He also knows whom he is trying to reach and how to do it, and is being rewarded for his work. Dan leverages his unique knowledge and insights into SEO, the Internet, and sound business practices to bring his images, and those who want them, together.

Blend Images is another inspiration. Blend has identified a niche, the celebration of ethnic diversity, and is not only serving that niche well, they are also providing their photographers with unmatched resources and a great community. Blend is thriving for its efforts.

On the Micro side you have the example of Yuri Arcurs who has the vision, work ethic, and organizational skills to become a stock photo powerhouse. Not everyone is suited to the kind of phenomenal output (while maintaining quality) that Yuri manages to accomplish, but Yuri has mastered it.

Tom Grill is a master at determining where the holes are in the stock agencies and then filling the holes with amazing efficiency. He understands and exploits the data from his sales reports in order to pinpoint exactly where he needs to put his energies in order to maximize his profit.

The point is that there are many different ways to succeed in stock photography. As individuals and companies we each have to know our own strengths, know who our market is, and figure out how to match our strengths to that market. We then must have the drive and perseverance to follow through on that effort. What are you best at? How can you distinguish your work from that of others? Who is the most suitable market for that work? How can you best distribute to that market? Answer those questions and the rest is just elbow grease and belief in your self.