Saturday, October 31, 2009

Assignments, Stock Photography, and a Rich Life

Getting out of your normal environment can stimulate ideas. This shot from my working vacation can be a travel photograph, or a concept stock photo about skill, balance and small business. But the most important benefit from this trip was recharging my batteries (internal...not camera)!

Shooting Assignments And Stock Photo Production
In a way, a photographer who shoots only stock and no assignments is putting themselves at a disadvantage when in comes to stock photography production. When shooting assignments you end up in places, and with access to people, that you probably would never even think of, let alone be subsidized to shoot.  So I have often asked myself if it wouldn’t help my stock photography career to shoot assignments. Ah, but then I think of all the wasted time associated with assignments. 

Estimates, Prep and Post
There are the estimates, that to do a good job, can take a least a day and sometimes several days to complete.  And if you do get the job there are the days of prep and of post, and the endless little changes the clients always seem to want, and the last minute additions that they don’t want to pay for…and the hassles to get paid.

Introducing Fresh Ideas
OK, I say to myself, I won’t return to doing assignments just yet.  But how can I introduce new and fresh ideas into my work that are comparable to those that would come in via assignments?

Expose Yourself To Something New
Well, I have come up with a couple of thoughts around that. First, I get out of my ordinary environment and expose myself to something completely new and different.  One way in which I have done that very successfully is by doing what I refer to as adventure travel. I have a friend and colleague who leads photo trips to some pretty cool places.  Places like India, Jordan, Myanmar and China. Every time I have taken one of these trips I have come back not only refreshed and with a whole notebook of new ideas, but also with photography from the trips themselves that have invariably paid back the cost of the trip and have each become their own little profit center.

Travel, Time, and a New Paradigm
Occasionally I have undertaken such travel by myself, but it is a lot more fun for me to be with like-minded people and to have the logistics handled by someone else.  In a way these trips are far more efficient for me as well. I avoid spending all that time in researching places and putting together the trip.  Instead, I just step out of my business world and into a whole new paradigm, and then, recharged, step back into my “real world” existence.

An African Safari, A Photography Blog And Great White Sharks
The other method I have for injecting some unusual ideas into my work comes as kind of a corollary to the travel. I keep a list of 100 things I want to do before I die (OK, I have never actually gotten more than about 60 things written down). Things like go on an African safari (haven’t done that one yet…but think of the cool stock photos that could come out of that…and I don’t mean photos of wild animals, but of camp life and so forth…), shoot photography for a world humanitarian organization, dive with great white sharks, start a photography blog (oh yeah, I did that one), Visit Rio de Janeiro during Carnival, anyway, you get the picture.

Dream Assignments and Stock Photography
Make a list of things you want to do before you die. Go crazy with it! Then look at that list with an eye for how you can accomplish those things and make them pay off for you through stock photography.  It is kind of like giving yourself your own dream assignments…and using stock photography to enhance your life in more ways than just monetarily. In the end, it is a full and rich life that I want more than a full and rich estate!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Creating A Compelling Stock Photo

Diversification And A Primary Focus
There is just no getting around the fact that we are drowning in images and it will only get worse.  As any of you who regularly read this stock photo blog will know, this is something I think about constantly, along with how stock photographers can continue to thrive in such an environment.  I believe in diversification, which in this context, for me, means creating royalty free and rights manage imagery and distributing those images through several agencies. But I have a primary focus. My primary focus is on rights managed images.

Focusing On Rights Managed

There are several reasons I am focusing on rights managed images. First, I believe that overall the payment for those images is more commensurate with the value a user of that imagery receives. That is, for important uses, the price point is higher. Secondly, my percentage is higher. I get twice the percentage for RM as I do for RF. Thirdly, if the pirating of images is ever curbed it will probably be primarily, if not exclusively, for rights managed images.  That reason, however, might be wishful thinking. Who knows.

Compelling Photos And Premium Prices
So, given that my priority is rights managed imagery, and given that there is a lot of resistance out in the market to using rights managed imagery, I want to create photos that are so compelling that people will want to use those images badly enough to use the rights managed system and to pay premium prices. But what makes a picture compelling? It can be a lot of things. It can be that the photograph is unique in its content, or has a style that sets it apart, or perhaps it is just that the image is perfect for a particular users need.

Information And Data Management
The idea for this image came from a topic that seems to be very much on every photographer's mind; data management. Particularly as stock photographers we have to deal with storage, retrieval, tracking, uploading, and tagging our digital assets.  We have to enter metadata, track sales and, heck, even pay attention to our social media efforts. Information, data and digital asset management takes a huge chunk of my available time, and so it is reasonable to conclude it must be something that every business is struggling to keep on top of. In my mind that means that there is a market for imagery that addresses information management and technology as a general concept.  There is opportunity here to create images that can both stand out from the crowd (hey, another great concept) and be applicable to a wide range of products and services.

Intention, Streaking Lights And Information Flow

I gave myself the intention of coming up with an image that would illustrate a futuristic sense of data management and technology that would be appropriate for a large range of applications. Then I began to go through my files (I use bridge because I am too lazy to learn Lightroom or the various other programs available) and look for something that might spark my imagination.  I came across this cool shot of streaking lights at night that seemed to me could illustrate data or information flow.  I began to "play" with the image to see if I could make it look as if it were streaking through an urban environment.  After about an hour-and-a-half of trying different combinations of images I realized that what might really make the image come together was a person.  At that point I put the half-complete image into an "ideas" folder and decided to complete it after shooting a model in an appropriate pose.

A List, A Model And Getting To Work

Two weeks later (last week) I was ready to hire a model to use for this and a number of other ideas. I like to create a list of ten to twenty ideas and then do a shoot to get the parts for them.  Last Saturday I photographed the model. Yesterday I got around to stripping her out, pasting her into the streaking light image and getting to work.  I spent about three hours noodling with the image before I felt it was complete.

Flexible Cropping, A Sense O Place And Motion
A couple of points that I feel are important.  As I referred to in an earlier stock photo blog, I created the image so that it could be cropped as a vertical or horizontal, as a spread in a magazine, or as a magazine cover. It can work as a billboard or in a newsletter. The image is a bit busy at thumbnail size, but its square crop insures a maximum footprint when viewed on a stock site, and the story can still be grasped quickly.  By having a hint of a city skyline in the background the image is given a "sense of place" which is an important plus for a stock photo. Tom Grill, a true master of stock photography, is fond of saying that "motion sells" and the streaking lights give us that sense of motion.

Headlines, Art Directors And Designers

The woman is re-directing the flow of information and apparently pleased at what she is doing. The image can adapt easily to various headlines such as "Get A Handle On Your Data Management" or "Information Distribution At Your Finger Tips". I will quit with the mock headlines before I lose too many readers! Perhaps most importantly, I haven't seen this approach done by any one else yet. I believe it to be new, fresh, attention getting and relevant to a need in the marketplace.  I just hope art directors, art buyers and designers agree with me!

Intention, Interesting Images, And A Targeted Shoot
To kind of sum things up, I set my intention to come up with an information technology stock photo. I utilized a collection of interesting images I keep on hand, for possible inclusion in stock photo composites, to help come up with an idea. With an idea in mind (actually a list of approximately fifteen ideas in this case) I hired a model and did a very targeted shoot.  As I composited the image I kept in mind important criteria for a successful image. Last, but not least, before I left my studio yesterday I submitted the image to a stock agency.  Now on to the next one!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ask And Ye Shall Receive...Why Not?

And Wonderful Idea And A Book
A number of years ago I was interviewed, as an early adopter of Photoshop, as part of a book on Adobe. When the book came out the writer sent me a copy. It was beautiful and I phoned her up to congratulate her. I then asked her what her next project was. She replied that she didn’t know yet. I suggested that she write a book on me…and she said that was a wonderful idea! A year later my book on Photoshop (Adobe Masterclass: Photoshop Compositing with John Lund) came out.

Would You Model For Me?
A few days ago I had just boarded a plan back from New York when a very attractive young woman sat down next to me. After a very brief conversation I asked her if she would model for me (I always cringe when I ask that…). She agreed and two days later we were shooting. The first image from that shoot can be seen above.

Photo Shoots of Operations And Physical Therapy
Three times I have asked surgeons if I can either have my operation photographed, or if I can use their facilities to stage a shoot in. Amazingly enough that has resulted in two actual still photo shoots of operations on me (including a video in which a mesh is installed beneath my abdominal muscles) and an extensive shoot in a physical therapy facility virtually for free (OK, the operation did cost me $10,000.00).

Tony Stone And A Career In Stock Photography
Way back before the beginning of time I once asked Tony Stone if he would loan me enough money to buy a powerful computer so that I could create cool stock photos for him (his company, Tony Stone Images, was the company purchased by Jonathan Klein and Mark Getty and turned into Getty Images).  Amazingly enough Tony said yes and my career in stock photography took off.  Of course, the answer isn’t always yes. I would like to point out I first asked the owner of another stock agency for the money to buy the computer, but he declined.  Silly man!

The Most Important Question

In yet another ancient and audacious act of asking, I approached the owner of a photo lab (remember those?) if he would loan me $5,000.00 to purchase a Beta copy of a program called Live Picture. Back then Live Picture had layers and a liquefy filter as well as “history” and Photoshop did not. He loaned me the money, I bought Live Picture and for quite a few years was able to work far more efficiently for certain tasks than I could with Photoshop. In fact, the very first job I did with Live Picture, that I could not do with Photoshop, netted me a not-too-paltry $11,000.00 profit! Of course, Live Picture lost the battle to Photoshop and there are few people left who even remember it. Oh well….
Perhaps the most important question of all, though, is one to ask your self. That question is:Why not?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stock Photography: The Road Ahead

 About The Photo: The above photograph was shot on a trip to Mongolia. In this case "The road ahead" is a rough one filled with pot holes! While the roads ranged from rough to non existent, I used Photoshop to add twice as many potholes to this section of road as actually existed, to emphasize the concept of a "rough road ahead".

2009, The Year When Everything Changed
At the recent UGCX conference in New York Jack Hollingsworth commented that when we look back at 2009 we will see that it was the year everything changed. That may well be the case. I am hearing that the relentless growth of earnings for top micro stock shooters is abating. I have heard from several top photographers, and at least one industry pundit, that they are considering leaving the field of photography altogether. I have spoken with a number of my fellow stock shooters who report that their revenues are down fifty to seventy-five percent over what they were a year ago!

DSLRs, Video And The Stock Business
Yet there are also many who are excited at the prospect of what lies ahead. Video is generating a lot of excitement with the advent of DSLRs that can shoot superb quality video and the beginnings of a proliferation of accessories and developments that can make those cameras at least the rough equal of what has been previously the domain of pro level video cameras. And while there are numerous reports of trouble with the micro stock model, I personally know at least two photographers who have expanded their traditional stock picture business into micro and are doing well.

Getty, Flickr, And New Opportunities
Getty has apparently abandoned their efforts at producing wholly owned content and seems to be fixated on mining flickr for their new imagery. At Veer we are seeing the search for traditional stock and micro merging. There is, indeed, a lot going on in the stock photo industry! But this isn’t just indicative of stock photography…it is true of pretty much everything. Change continues at a blistering pace destroying old models and offering new opportunities. Some of us are going to suffer and some of us prosper. I am both hopeful and determined to be of the latter type. That requires doing my best to keep track of all these changes, figuring out what they mean, and then adjusting my own efforts accordingly.

More Photographs At More Price Points
One thing that cannot be argued is the over supply of images. That over supply is being fed at a tremendous pace…and I don’t believe that will end. An over supply of imagery is part of the new landscape. I believe that there will continue to be a demand for the highest-end photography and some degree of exclusivity, but that the need for such imagery will diminish somewhat as more advertising turns to internet, to motion, and to segmented marketing (targeting fewer but more specific prospects). I believe that micro prices will include more and more of what some call “mid-stock” such as with iStock’s “Vetta” collection. The lowest of micro prices simply will not support a full range of the kind and quality of images needed. That being said, I fore see more and more free images designed to pull in more market share by various agencies. Ultimately there will be more photographs at more price points.

A More Targeted Selection And A Better Search Experience
The challenge for image buyers and sellers alike will be in efficient searching. Can buyers find the right images for their needs without spending too much time sorting through the chaff? Can sellers provide an optimum experience for the buyers by providing relevant images quickly and efficiently? Twenty years ago Tony Stone revolutionized the stock photo business by offering a smaller number of higher quality images and making a hundred dupes of each image so that he could get the images in front of buyers more efficiently. We may well be coming right back to that premise. Collections that offer a more targeted selection and a better search experience will be able to charge a premium for that service.

The Road Ahead
I do believe that the road ahead for photography does offer some of us increased opportunities, but that overall, making a living from stock photography will never be as easy as it once was. The first step to future success in this new paradigm is letting go of the concept of whether these changes are right or wrong. The next step is to see the market objectively, determine where your own strengths coincide with the changes in the market, and to move in the direction of those strengths.

More Quality And Less Quantity
For me, the path is one towards less quantity and more quality and towards getting my images in front of as many potential buyers as possible. To increase my quality I am doing more careful research, increasing my communication with the editors I do have, and being more discriminating in which images I undertake. To get my pictures in front of more buyers I am expanding the number of stock agencies I work with, developing my web site and SEO, and beginning to utilize social media. Whatever the outcome of my efforts, at least one thing is for certain…this is an exciting time to be in the photography business!