Thursday, September 24, 2009

The One Man Band And A Network Of Thousands

One Man Band: To Be, Or Not To Be?
At various times in my photography career I have had up to five people working for me. A small number of employees compared to the number of staff members of many other photographers, but certainly a handful for me! I remain firmly convinced that having the right employees can make your business way more efficient and profitable, and having the wrong employees can really drag you down. One question you need to answer before you grow your business staff is whether it will suit the life you want to lead.

Large Staffs, Part Time Employees, and Pressure
I know of several photographers who have large staffs, produce wonderful work in vast quantities, haul in huge dollars and feel like they are slaves to their operations.  One such stock shooter, who has over a dozen staff members, remarked to me how much he envied my trips abroad to shoot stock.  I suggested he embark on such a trip.  He said he couldn’t, his huge studio expenses would continue whether he was there or not, so he had to be there to keep producing. I'm sure not everyone feels that way, but it is a feeling I certainly understand. Whenever I have had full-time, or heck, even part time employees, I have felt pressure to keep them busy and productive.

Routine Tasks And Freedom
Right now I have no one working for me. It feels great! The downside is that I have to do things I don't necessarily want to, like entering metadata, running to the store to buy printer ink (I just got back), and taking care of all the routine tasks that I consider myself too important to do. Oh well…. It also means that I won't make quite as much money. Sure, there is no salary to pay, but I have always found that employees have earned me more than they have cost me…at least in terms of dollars. But at this point in my life I value my freedom more than I do those extra dollars.

A One Man Band And A Network Of Thousands

The trade-off? I have to be that proverbial One Man Band. Of course, I do avail myself of independent contractors. I have a bookkeeper that comes in every couple of months to untangle my latest Quickbooks mess, my web master (actually my twin brother) who handles the heaviest SEO load, and the occasional assistant as needed. But more importantly, I have a network of thousands (OK, maybe hundreds…but whose counting?) I can turn to when I need help, pretty much anywhere in the world.  I have this network of friends and from photographer forums, from helping others and sharing information whenever I can. One of the most amazing things about this new fangled Internet is all of the help that is out their waiting for all of us.  I guess none of us really has to be a one man band anymore.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wrestling With A Stock Photo Strategy

Sumo Wrestling,Sumo,David and Goliath,Business
Sumo Wrestlers and Trapeze Artists
A good example of the approach I am currently taking to my stock photography can be seen in a recent shoot based around a Sumo wrestler. The idea originated from a shoot I did a few years ago. I had photographed flying trapeze artists to illustrate concepts such as teamwork, risk and skill. During the process of digitally compositing the trapeze picture it occurred to me that one trapeze artist about to catch another very heavy, overweight trapeze artist could be both humorous and effective in illustrating “the impossible”, risk, and the need for assistance.

Large and Proud, Funny and Compelling
Thing was, I was too embarrassed to ask an extremely overweight person to model for the shot. I even wondered if such a photograph would be insensitive or demeaning to people with weight problems. I don’t remember exactly what triggered the idea of using a Sumo wrestler, but as soon as the idea hit me I knew I had to do it. Sumo wrestlers are both the epitome of large, and are proud of their size. That solved all of my above concerns. Using a sumo wrestler would also emphasize the size difference and make the image all that much more funny and compelling.

An Imposing Force and A Kitten
My producer contacted a sumo wrestling association and we secured the services of a three hundred pound plus Sumo Wrestler named Americus. A very imposing fellow, but also very nice and enthusiastic about our photo shoot, though we did have to clear our shot list with the director of the association. The principle image was the trapeze one, but we filled out the list with ideas such as the wrestler as an imposing force, about to wrestle a small business man, holding up a small kitten, walking a tightrope and a number of other conceptual ideas.

A Day To Shoot, Ten Days To Image
The photography took a day to shoot and I spent the next ten days or so putting the digital composites together. Eventually I got bored and moved onto other projects. I still have more scenarios to complete with the sumo wrestler but they involve additional location photography. Someday I’ll get around to them.

Blend Images And A Rights Managed Collection
In the mean time I placed the images with Blend Images, a stock photo agency (in the interest of full disclosure…I am one of the founders of Blend) specializing in the celebration of ethnically diverse business, lifestyle and conceptual images. The sumo stock images are part of Blend’s new Non-exclusive Rights Managed stock photo collection, though a couple of images were deemed more appropriate the royalty free collections.

This shoot embodies a lot of my stock strategies. The images are primarily for Rights Managed collections, I base a shoot around a strong concept and add to the shot list as many related concept images as I reasonably can, and I try and find the best possible distribution for the images.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stock Photography And the Timeless Image

I came up with what I thought was a great idea, a kind of positive spin on the old half-full, half empty glass theme. My idea was for a photograph of a hand holding up a glass with a rainbow in the background creating the illusion that the rainbow was pouring into the glass. A timeless concept stock photo illustrating success, optimism, positive thinking, and the way forward.

The image went up on Getty. They accepted it into their Stone collection. Good start. I waited for the checks to start rolling in. Nothing. I waited six months and finally a sale!
My share came out to $80.00. Then, a short nine months later, another sale, this one for $63.00.

In the nineteen years that I have been seriously producing stock I have learned, if nothing else, that I can’t really predict what images will be best sellers. I do know that of my concept images only a handful have failed to sell to at least some extent. Another thing I have learned is that images can be very cyclical. I have had a number of images fail to sell, literally for years, then suddenly take off. I have images that take off right out of the gate earning royalties like crazy, only to tail off and even stop all together. Then, sometimes they will come on again. You just never know.

With this particular image of the rainbow/glass things did bump up a bit in 2007. The total royalties for that year came to $374.60. Then in 2008 the royalties came to $1,818.18. Half way through 2009 the image has earned $871.29. The total to date is now $3,207.07. This is getting awfully close to being a decent selling stock image. It certainly means the afternoon I spent making the image was well spent. The image may never be a best selling stock photo, but there really isn’t anything to date the image, so it should continue earning, perhaps sporadically and maybe not in huge quantities, but earning nonetheless.

I have come to the conclusion that you have to give an RM image, at least my favorite kind, timeless conceptual ones, five years before deciding whether or not the image is successful. Sure, some you know about right away, but my whole stock strategy is based around creating images that will provide income for a long period time, preferably forever. Despite all the changes that our industry is undergoing, I still see a comfortably long life-span with most of my older images. My best three selling images last month with Getty were all created over five years ago.

If you create great, timeless images, then I believe that the trick in the coming years is to make sure clients see those images. Not necessarily an easy task with the millions of images coming online each month. Do you leave that task to the agencies, or do you take control yourself?