Friday, November 13, 2009

Penetrating The Consumer Market For Photography

Turbulence, Change And Pictures As Products
In this crazy time of turbulence and change in the photography world, I think it is extremely important to keep an eye on, and perhaps a toe in, a variety of markets. One market that the Internet seems to have opened up to individual photographers, at least on the surface anyway, is the market made up of consumers, people who want to buy pictures as products. I define that as everything from fine art prints to anything with a picture printed on it such as coffee mugs, greeting cards, mouse pads, calendars and so forth.

Cats, Dogs and

What I have found so far is that it is not necessarily an easy market to penetrate. With my collection of “Animal Antics” images, photos of cats, dogs and other animals in anthropomorphic poses and situations, I thought the process would be simple. Just put my images up on Café and rake in the sales. Why is it that things so seldom work out as planned?

Cats, Dogs And Coffee Mugs

The first thing I misjudged was how much work it is to put pictures up on sites such as CafePress. A funny picture of a cat that works really well on a mouse pad invariably doesn’t fit well on a coffee mug. A photo that fits on a coffee mug probably isn’t going to fit too well on a journal. You get the picture. Not only that, but you have all kinds of products that you have to decide if you want to include. Things like “Flip Minos” and dog bowls. Then you have items like T-shirts and sweatshirts that aren’t going to print detail well. Is it better to include every product you can, or to limit your selection to products that the images actually work well on? I decided that the latter is better, except that what I have actually done is the former. I have all kinds of products, mugs, T-shirts, funny golf shirts, and the like, that don’t work particularly well with my images. I keep meaning to fix that…but, well, you know…. Decisions, decisions!

Key Words, Tagging And Traffic

Then, if you go to all that trouble, you may find, like I did, that after three or four months you have had six visitors and no sales. Does that sound like fun or what! To drive any kind of measurable traffic to your CaféPress Store front requires a ton of key words, tagging and promotion efforts. That isn’t to say it can’t be done. I am experiencing a slow but steady growth in sales. Heck, just yesterday we sold four T-shirts and made $18.00. But it does take a huge investment in time and energy. Will it pay off for me? I think it will and so I continue….

Time, Effort And Photographic Success
But back to the point of this blog. To succeed in this market will require having photography that is suited to the market, whether it is a collection of beautiful landscapes, cute kittens, or breath-taking flower arrangements…the images have to appeal to a broad group of buyers. You will need to put the time and effort into all the work from SEO to uploading images…it is up to you to bring the customers in. That doesn’t happen automatically. And, as I pointed out in a previous blog (Bill, link here to the blog, you need patience and perseverance. Photographic success takes time…and an effort like this can take a LOT of time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Passion, Perseverance And Visualization

  Photograph of my own feet in a boat on Inle Lake, Myanmar.  Ahh the life! This is a concept image about success, financial planning and the way forward.  ©johnlund

Delivery Boy, Substitute Teacher And Photography Blogs
Three things you need to have to succeed in photography: passion, perseverance and visualization.  I say that because success in photography, at least for me, has taken a long time. It took me six years before I could quit my secondary jobs (gas station attendant, delivery boy, substitute teacher and landscape laborer) and rely on photography to support me. It took seven years from the time I started seriously shooting stock until I could give up assignment work. And have been working at SEO (and photo blogging) for a year now and am just starting to see real results.  To succeed in photography you have to have perseverance. To keep doing the things you need to do while waiting for that success you need passion.

Strengthen Your Passion And Perseverance

One of my inspirations is Brian Tracy, a motivational speaker and coach. Brian reports that the vast majority of people quit just before success is finally about to arrive. To even set out to become a professional photographer you have to have some passion.  But what can you do to strengthen that passion, to increase that essential perseverance, and to help motivate yourself to actually do all those little things that need to be done to insure success? One way is to practice visualization.

Trips To Exotic Places And A Million Dollars A Year
Picture what you want your life to be like five years from now. Make that picture as clear and detailed as possible. For instance, five years from now I want to be living in my completed (I am living in a fixer-upper) home in Mill Valley. I want to be taking at least two trips to exotic places around the world each year. I want to have stock photo revenue of at least one million dollars each year. I will have a strong community of friends and fellow shooters. I will be in excellent shape (hmmm, I will be sixty-three years old). I will be able to do fifteen pull-ups, fifty consecutive perfect push-ups, and weigh 178 pounds (I can do now do nine pull-ups, forty consecutive push-ups and I weigh 182 pounds). Five years from now I will be selling at least one hundred or more fine-art prints a year (currently at about 12 a year), I will have one thousand more Rights Managed images online and will have a million visitors a year to my web site.  You get the picture, lots of fun detail!

Visualize Your Goals With Detail

By visualizing your goals with detail you make them more real, you give them more passion.  The more real your goals are the more compelling they become. Also, with detailed visualization, you can plan the steps, the individual goals, that are necessary to make that dream a reality. For example, to get one thousand more Rights Managed images online I will have to create two hundred such images a year. Slightly over sixteen images a month, or four images a week. Now there is a concrete goal for me to work on. I know from my past history that it is an ambitious goal, but is reachable. There is something really magical about setting ambitious but reachable goals. It is also essential to set deadlines for those goals. You can always set new deadlines if you miss one, but if you don’t set the deadline to begin with then your goal isn’t really a goal, it is just fantasizing!

Your Ideal Life, Passion And Goals

This brings us back to where we started, to visualization. Visualizing your ideal life in detail enables you to set appropriate goals and makes that future life compelling enough to keep your passion high and give you the perseverance to take the necessary steps to reach each of your goals. Speaking of goals, I have made three Rights Managed images so far this week and I need to complete one more tomorrow to meet my goal!

Sarah Golonka Interview On Successful Stock Photography

 One of Sarah's favorite stock images. ©SarahGolonka

 Sarah, as an art director/editor for several stock agencies, a freelance photographer, stock consultant and a stock shooter, you must have, in a sense, a kind of “global” perspective on stock photography. Can you fill us in on your background in stock and photography, and your journey to where you are now?
I have been involved professionally with stock photography for over 7 years now, entering  the field shortly after graduating from collage at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, IN,  where I studied fine art photography & psychology.  At that time, I didn’t even know about stock photography, and how it would soon be playing such a major role in my future career.

Just after graduation,  I landed an internship as a photo assistant at this great little stock photography agency called PictureArts, in Culver City, CA. When I began interning at PictureArts, it was still a very small company, owned by Jeff Burke & Lorraine Triolo.  It was while I was working with the team at PictureArts, that I began to learn about the world of stock photography, and how stock photography was beginning to play such a major role in  the advertising market. I was soon hooked, and dove into learning all aspects of the stock photography world.

Fast forwarding a few years, I went from being an intern, to an editor and art director for PictureArt’s Brand X collection, worked freelance as an Art Director/Producer for both Jupiter Images & Corbis, and in addition, became a Senior Editor at Blend Images.  While each of my positions at these various stock agencies filled up my weekly schedules, I also took the time to shoot as a stock photographer as well.  I am currently represented by Jupiter, Getty, Blend Images & Tetra.

Throughout the years I have had the great opportunity to work with and learn from so many amazing creative people within the stock industry.  I’ve also have had the unique opportunity to see the stock photography world from both an editor and a photographer’s perspective.  This gives me a unique perspective, which I use to help encourage other photographers not only to shoot smart, but also to shoot creatively.

How are you allocating your time these days (with stock, editing, photography assignments and consulting)?
I am working on quite a few different projects, all of which I love!   Right now my time is spent as both a stock photography consultant, (which includes both editing and art direction for a few different stock photographers and agencies,)  and then I am also shooting as a freelance stock, event & portrait photographer, within the Los Angeles, CA area. You can view my current work on my website:

At the moment I am working on an exciting project with Sanrio (Hello Kitty,) as their event photographer for their Three Apples Exhibition, which is a 3 week long exhibit celebrating the 35th anniversary of Hello Kitty. This is currently  taking place at Royal/T Café, in downtown Culver City, CA.  I’ve been documenting all aspects of this event and look forward to having my photography published next year in a book that will be sold as a commemorative item of the event.  You can learn more about this great event by visiting the Three Apples website:

You were my editor at Blend Images, and also worked with several other photographers I am close with.  I know we all respected your feedback and your ability to help us see how we could maximize our stock shoots.  From your experience are there any “universal” or “common” areas that most photographers overlook when shooting stock?
Focusing on quantity vs. quality:
I still see so many photographers trying to shoot aggressively, focusing on the quantity vs. the quality of the images that they are producing for stock.   Especially these days, within this current marketplace, I think it is so important to shoot smart, which means turning your focus to producing images of higher quality instead of quantity.   Many photographers also need to start putting much more time into their pre-production; taking an extra moment to do the research to see what does and does not already exist in the current marketplace, generate some new ideas that they haven’t seen on a stock site before, and incorporating those ideas into a shoot list ahead of time, in addition to communicating with their editors to make sure they are on the right path, before they even begin shooting.  Shooting blindly always will give you mixed results.

High production value:
I don’t think that a shoot needs to cost a lot of money to be successful, but I do feel that a shoot needs to reflect high production value in order to be competitive in today’s marketplace.  These day’s it’s so important to raise the bar and take the extra time to think about your concepts, casting, location, lighting and styling.  All of these details are equally important to make your images more sellable.  So many of the ‘same old’ images are out there now, so why not try to take these sellable concepts and put your own creative spin on them, or just create some new concepts on your own?  Clients want to spend money on images that look new and fresh and different than what they have seen before.  Plus, creating something unique will give you less competition within the existing marketplace and in turn, will generate more sales for you if you are shooting a sellable concept.

The photographer/talent relationship:
I also see many photographers not taking the time to connect with their models, before and during a shoot.  If you take the time to make a personal connection with your talent, they will be more comfortable around you and in turn, you will create stronger and more realistic images. Be nice and make friends. Models have feelings too!

Know your own stock sales history:
This I see a lot of shooters not doing.  They know they have made money from their images, but do they know exactly which images of theirs have been selling over and over?  More importantly, do they know which images of theirs are NOT selling?  Just by taking the time to review your stock sales history, you can learn a lot about what clients like and maybe do not like, about your particular style or choice in subject matter.  Once you start to research your own sales history, you then can begin to see, from a client’s perspective, what your stock photography strengths and weakness are, and then shoot accordingly.

How has your photography and editing experience helped you in shooting stock?

I have had the unique experience of looking at the stock photography world from two different perspectives, as an editor and as a photographer.  From this I have drawn the conclusion that it is of the utmost importance for a photographer to communicate with their editors and to take advantage of the creative feedback and advice that they are willing to give you.  If you have an editor that doesn’t give you much feedback, then be a bit more aggressive and ask some more specific questions.  Learning what your editor does and does not like, and why, will only help you become a better stock photographer.

Your editors are looking at your images from not only a creative standpoint, but also in terms of whether or not your images are sellable & competitive in today’s marketplace.  Always ask questions and find out why some of your images were not selected after an edit, then be sure to take that into consideration when you plan your next shoot.  Learn from each of your submissions.  Don’t be offended by your editor’s advice or criticism.   They are looking at your images in terms of salability, so take the time to learn why they think one of your images was more sellable over another.  This is how you can then start to shoot smart and then begin to gear each of your shoots towards your agency’s specific wants and needs.  In turn, you will begin to see your select rate begin to increase, which is what everyone wants, right?

For you, what is the most challenge aspect of shooting stock? 
Taking a great idea and actually getting it to reflect that concept in a contemporary & sellable way.  Having a great idea and then executing it successfully, is never an easy task. Today you have to take so many additional details into account so that your stock images look individualistic and different than all the rest.  Here is when spending the extra time in pre-production really comes into account.  Having a solid shoot list is a great start, but then hiring strong talent (that looks and acts natural in front of the camera,) in addition to  making sure all the location and wardrobe styling details work together too….it’s a lot more difficult than many people expect.  It’s always a challenge for me.

What is the most challenging aspect of editing or art directing another photographer’s work?
Communication.  Each photographer is different and some respond better to visual examples for inspiration, while others prefer more verbal direction.  Some photographers take constructive criticism well, others do not.  Any art director or editor can have a great idea or shot in mind, but communicating that idea successfully to the photographer, and getting them to shoot that concept in the way in which you want, is always challenging!

Can you explain what separates an average stock image from a best seller?

A best selling image will not only display a sellable concept that is easily understood by the masses, but it will also push the creative envelope.  A ‘best seller’ image doesn’t look like a similar to other images shot by other photographers.  It’s individualistic. It looks real. If it is a lifestyle image, the people in the image have very natural expressions and body language, as if they are real people who had no idea that a camera was even in the room.

A ‘best seller’ image usually will also have some negative space, (so that the client can have the ability to crop or add text overlay, to the image,)  and the image will also be identifiable at a small thumbnail size. (If a client is searching a stock website, if they can’t tell what the image is as a thumbnail, they will never click on it in the first place!)  Also, the styling will be just right, the colors will compliment the subject in a contemporary way and the details of the location will not overpower the subject, but will add to the story being told, in a very natural and realistic way.

How about what separates an average shooter from an exceptional shooter?
I would say that an exceptional shooter takes the time to ‘shoot smart,’ (aka: pre-production, creative research,) but then also takes creative risks. Almost anyone can shoot a sellable concept, but it’s those who shoot that concept in a creative way, which hasn’t been done or seen before, are the ones that open themselves up to creating some of the best selling stock imagery.  Yes, taking those risks may not always work, but if you do it right, the rewards will outweigh the risks.

What do you like to shoot the most?
I really love shooting people!   Working with two or more models is my favorite because I can get them to really interact with each other, which allows me to focus on documenting their natural, personal interaction, in a creative way.   

Where do you get your ideas?
I get my ideas from a multitude of different sources.   Yes, I always like to be aware of what already exists in the current stock marketplace, but then the key is to create something that doesn’t already exist.  So after I look to see what agencies do have, I then turn to other sources for my inspiration. I always take the time to visit the local bookstores to spend time flipping through all the magazines that are on the stands.  It’s great to see what existing stock images are being printed and how they are being used. But more importantly, I also make sure to review the more editorial, assignment and fine art resources as well.  I draw a lot of inspiration from looking at what many of the non-stock photography shooters are doing, by looking at different publications as well, or  by visiting gallery exhibits and reviewing various creative blogs and websites. Honestly, we are bombarded by visual imagery everywhere these days, so you can draw ideas from anywhere!

What is your process for creating stock?
When I am beginning the pre-production for a stock shoot, I first speak with my editor and make sure I am shooting agency-specific.  I want to know exactly what their specific wants and needs are, since I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.  Shooting stock is about creating imagery that will make money, so that’s my most important first step,  making sure my shoot idea is actually a sellable one and that it will include images that my agency will actually select for their collection.  

Next I begin my creative research so I can create a strong shoot list and determine all my production details.   I first look to see what my agency already has on the subject that I’m going to shoot, making sure I’m not repeating any of the same ideas so I can gear my shoot towards what hasn’t been covered yet.  Then I begin to pull tear sheets and other creative inspiration from a multitude of sources.  I also put a lot of thought into my casting, (do they have a sellable look and can they act natural in front of a camera? )  After that I determine my location, wardrobe details (including color and style,) and work hard to make sure that everything falls into place.  Before I shoot, if my editor is up for it, I send them my shoot list and some of my styling/production ideas to make sure I’m on the right track, before I finalize my production details and start shooting.

What kind of material, in your experience, has the most income potential?

Well, from my experience I know that there are certain subjects that are always very sellable, since there is such a need for them in the marketplace, such as sports, education, and seasonal imagery, but yet depending on what agency you are distributing your work through, those needs may change depending on the agencies specific clientele.  Being a bit more general, I’d say that stock shooters should strive for creating images that again, look different and have a higher production value than what we already see being over-represented at all these current stock agencies.  Overall, images that tell a story, look natural and realistic, and that portray a strong concept;  have the most potential for creating more income for the photographer.

What is the most common mistake that stock photographers make?

Shooting for quantity vs. quality. Slow down and take the time before your shoot to do the research, create a strong shoot list and make sure all your production ducks are in a row.   Then during your shoot, you can relax, be creative and focus on getting some good variety.

What is it like to have your own stock photography edited by someone else?
Difficult, but yet eye-opening.  “Knowing” vs. actually “doing,” are two different monsters, which I learned quite quickly.   I actually love getting a critique by another editor because it gives me the chance to ask all those important questions and to find out how I can grow to become a stronger stock photographer.  I think that many photographers look at their own work much differently than they would someone else’s,  since they have much more of a personal connection with it.  This is why it’s so important for me to get as much creative feedback as possible from my editors, after a shoot.  That’s the way I learn how to make more money creating stock.   I know that I may not always agree with their decisions, but again, I know they are not telling me whether or not I’m a good photographer, just whether or not my images are sellable.  That’s an important clarification to make and to always take into consideration. 

Have you involved yourself with motion?  If not, do you plan on doing so?
Currently, I am not, but I do plan to eventually become involved.  I’ve been keeping up with all the current trends in this new and upcoming market and for right now, I am actively watching and learning to see where it’s going. Motion involves many new financial investments, and has a bit of a learning curve too, so I don’t want to jump in until I’m ready.

I have this suspicion that what separates the best of RM, RF and Micro is simply the label we put on it.  That being said, I do believe there are images that are more appropriate for each category.  Can we have your thoughts on that?
I personally believe that the quality (and sometimes subject matter,) should be the main differential factor when placing images into one collection vs. another.

Over the years I’ve seen so much inter-mixing between each sales model that it’s almost anyone’s guess these days, on whether an image is a RM, RF or sometimes even Micro, just by simply looking at the image.  I believe that although at one time each individual collection was once visually identifiable, it is no longer as easy to make that determination.  But, to keep stock photography alive and financially sound for the photographers who do shoot it for a living, I do think many agencies need to redefine and adhere to an updated creative strategy, specific to each sales model.

As things stand currently, I think that image quality and subject matter should be taken into consideration when the decision is being made to which collection an image is being placed into. It is now in the past where one could assume that a RM image was of higher quality than a RF image.  Due to this fact, I think photographers should look at RF & RM in terms of being different sales models vs. a defining factor of whether or not their images are of high quality.  In turn, photographers should also gear their shooting towards one model vs. another,  since they appeal to two different types of clientele, and therefore, depending on which collection your images are in, it could have a noticeable affect on your image sales.

Now that Micro has made great strides in the marketplace, the competition has increased ten-fold and photographers have much more competition than they ever did in the past.  I think there is a place for RM, RF and Micro in the current marketplace, but in my personal opinion, I think it’s up to both the stock agencies and the stock photographers to do the right thing and help keep the definitions clear, between each collection. I also think that if a professional stock photographer decides to shoot micro, they should put a bit of thought into the repercussions of their actions. I believe that Micro should not include super high-quality images. These images have their place in RF & RM collections.   If photographers begin to submit high-quality work to Micro,  they will be helping to contribute to the downfall of current RF/RM stock price points, resulting in a image market where both high quality and low quality images are all competing at the same low price point.  This, in time, could dramatically reduce the income of any full time stock photographer, who makes their income from both RM and RF sales.

Hypothetically, let’s say a photographer shot a high-quality image and put it in an RF/RM collection, and then they took that same image and put it into a Micro collection.  What do you think will happen?   You’ll not only be competing with yourself, but how happy will you be with your sales when your Micro shot sold more than your RF/RM image, and in turn, you made a lot less money?  I think Micro has a place and is a great outlet for photographers who can afford a big staff to help with making shooting Micro profitable, in addition to many amateurs and part-time photographers who normally wouldn’t have a market to distribute their images.  (Yes, I know there are always exceptions…)  But right now I believe it’s more important than ever for a stock photographer to shoot smart and think about why you are placing your images in one collection vs. another, and what can happen over time,  if you want to keep making a profit from shooting stock photography full time.  

Do you think it is important, or will be important, for individual stock photographers, to have their work on their own web sites?
I think it’s important for any photographer to have their own work on their own websites.  Everyone is web-savvy these days and if you don’t have yourself professionally represented online, your potential models or clients may question the quality of your work, your intentions or you may just be closing the door to many potential job opportunities. 

Do you believe that Google Image Search is, or will become, a significant factor in the world of stock photography?
Yes, I think any image search engine, including Google image search, is going to keep becoming more and more significant as time goes on.  Understanding Google analytics is a very complicated process but it should not be ignored, since more and more people do a direct Google search to find what they are looking for, online.   Phone books are a thing of the past.  I know that I have personally received unsolicited work from a Google search alone, so why wouldn’t someone else take advantage of at least properly tagging their images and personal websites to help increase their marketing and exposure?

What advice would you give someone just starting out as a stock photographer?
Question everything and learn from the answers your receive, communicate with other stock photographers and your editor; and most importantly, stick to your own style and learn how to apply sellable concepts to your images vs. trying to change your style to what you believe is ‘successful’ stock shooting style.

What advice would you give a jaded veteran such as me?

Keep your head up and look back to help prepare yourself for the future. Be aware of and open to change and work with it vs. against it.  Analyze your sales history and draw your own conclusions as to why your images did and did not sell, then apply that information to your future shoots. Keep taking creative risks and stick to shooting what you are good at vs. trying to reinvent the wheel. 

Are you optimistic about the future of stock photography (and why or why not)?
Change is happening and honestly, I am more curious vs. optimistic about the future of stock photography.  I know it will not disappear, but also am unsure of how profitable it will be, compared to the past.  So much is going on right now …..I do not think that anyone will be able to make any clear predictions about it’s future until people’s spending habits (and art buyer’s budgets,) go back to normal and the economy stabilizes.  Regardless, I do know that the previous way that photographers used to go about producing stock photography is now part of the past.  The bar has been raised and much more effort is now being placed on the photographers shoulders, then ever before.  It’s no longer about pushing a button to document a simple concept.  Now it’s about creating an image that tells a story in a very new, interesting and creative way.

On a positive note though, I do feel optimistic that those photographers who are open to change, are willing to take creative risks and who pay close attention to the business aspect of their stock photography, (analyzing their commission statements, etc. )  These are the stock shooters who are on top of their game and in the end, will have the holding power to float above this current wave of change in our industry.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Panic Greed And Patience In Creating Stock Photos

Whats the rush? Give your images some time to rest!

Creating Stock Photos And Image Gestation

I am not sure whether it is panic or greed, or perhaps both, that keep inserting their insidious talons into my photographic flesh (can I turn a phrase or what). You see, the problem is that I have a very hard time finishing a stock photo well. That is, taking the time to make sure every detail is a good as I can make it. I have an even harder time giving it a rest period before submitting it. Yet that rest period is incredibly important. So often I am in such a rush to finish an image and get started on the next one, and to see that first one up online and potentially earning me income, that I don’t take the proper and appropriate time to let the image gestate a bit before declaring it complete and sending it off.

The Approach That Finally Works
There are many reasons to allow for this gestation period, which I think should be a minimum of three days, and better a week, though I imagine each image would have its own optimum gestation period. Some images, like elephants, might even be best with a two-year gestation…and though that might be taking it a bit far, I have actually had images sit in a unfinished condition for that long before revisiting them and coming up with the approach that finally works. In the elephant photo above, I let the image sit (no pun intended) for a few days before I had the idea of adding the line of Pelicans flying by. It was a small touch but it adds a tremendous amount to the final image.

Separation, Detachment And Increased Earnings
A waiting period allows you to get some separation, some emotional detachment, from an image. That can be important because, at least for me, the emotional involvement and excitement of creating a stock photo (hey, I hold stock photography in VERY high regard), can hide flaws in the image from me, as well as keep me from seeing derivative versions that can significantly increase the earnings potential of my efforts. Once I send that image off, it makes submitting similar images or alternative versions almost impossible.

Feedback, Breathing Time And Significant Improvements

In addition, having a waiting period allows me to get some feedback from others on a photo. Sometimes someone will point out something about one of my stock images, a problem of some sort, that I already knew on some level, but refused to acknowledge to myself. Other times people can give me a new and fresh perspective altogether. While ultimately I have to go with my own judgment, if several others point out a similar difficulty, or possible improvement, then it certainly behooves me to pay attention. I find it interesting that sometimes my ego has a very hard time accepting another person’s point of view or suggestions, even while I can clearly see the validity of those suggestions. Having the patience to give an image some breathing time can lead to significant improvements in one’s imagery with virtually no negative consequences. Now I am off to watch some mindless television while my images “gestate”!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Interview With Charlie Holland, Former Director Of Photography, Getty Images Los Angeles

Photo ©Seth Joel/Charlie Holland
"An unplanned little picture about conservation taken one day when we had a hand model in the studio"  Charlie Holland.

Can you fill us in on your career path and how you came to be Director of Photography For Getty Images, Los Angeles?
Well, I have a degree in Social Anthropology and African History so my path to Tony Stone was not a straight one. I started as a photo researcher in New York in the late 1970’s – although I should probably start lying about the dates….I worked in magazines and books until Premiere magazine came along and I did five years there then moved on to Universal Studios as a marketing director. After another stint in magazines, I took the job as the DOP of the Los Angeles creative office of Tony Stone, replacing Sarah Stone which of course made me a persona non grata right off the bat with the staff and with the key photographers. I remember being kicked under the table by the creative director, Stephen Mays, when I started to explain my background to a group of leading photographers because he felt that my editorial background would be considered less than appropriate training for a gatekeeper in the stock industry. I thought the stock industry was just getting ready for a big shake up and that Tony Stone, already owned by Getty but not using the name, was going to be a great place to see it from. Well, I was not disappointed.

As Director of Photography for Getty LA, what were your responsibilities?

From the start, the job was to coordinate, direct the creative staff to edit, acquire, design and produce contemporary photography relevant to clients needs, present and future. I went in there with the notion that you should ‘assign’ the photography for the catalog, then the primary sales tool, just like you assigned a magazine. The company had already analyzed their catalog needs but not been systematic about how to get that material. I focused on making every editor an art director, someone who was capable of analyzing every photographers skills and resources, conceptualizing shoots, costing out productions, and recruiting talent to shoot the right material for each catalog or marketing product. It took about three years to get a crack team of 7 art directors in place. Then the company started to give us shoot money to commission work from a bigger pool of photographers - that is photographers who were new to the business and thus unable to burden the cost of production. So I supervised the conceptualization of all the shoots, allocated the resources, and coordinated very large productions to maximize our own production investment and worked closely with our key photographers on their self financed shoots. I pretty much stayed behind the curtain on set. Or in the trailer if we could afford one. The art directors preferred it that way! In fact, once on a huge shoot with three photographers and100 extras, the art director purposely gave me the wrong wavelength for my walkie talkie so I would stay out of his face on set! And no, I didn’t fire him, in fact he ended up getting my job.

You have probably looked at as many images as anyone. For you, what makes for a great stock photo?

Well, it has to be a good picture. But a really good stock photo makes you want to open your mouth and come up with a tag line…it invites copy. Good stock is sort of like good comedy (and good advertising) – there is a moment of truth that you recognize but it is revealed in a moment you might not have conceptualized yourself. It is both obvious and original at the same time.

What qualities make for a great stock photographer?

Now that most creative departments have disappeared it is largely the ability to self assign and self art direct. I think you need to be able to plan a shoot, shoot the predictable shots within that shoot and then have the energy and creativity to see the unexpected as it happens. Also, more than ever, you need to be able to edit for a client and not just for oneself.

The number of images that are available for licensing is mind-boggling. There has been a natural downward pressure on prices. When I look at how I can increase, or even maintain, my stock photography income, the first thing that comes to mind is to make more images…but that is part of the problem. Can you address that apparent conundrum?
Well it is a good idea to up your production but not that simple. Sheer numbers aren’t going to help. Adding variety to your subject matter over the course of your shooting year is important. Making pictures that radically differ from each other during your shoot day. Do your research before you shoot. Expand into different business models to make sure you are reaching as big a market as possible.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing stock shooters right now?

Like you just pointed out - falling prices and a huge oversupply of predictable images. So while the customer base may still be growing the “giant pool of pictures” grows faster.

Where are the biggest opportunities in stock photography?

I think there is still some life in the RM model and new work going into RM must be the right subject matter – i.e. express the right concepts but those ideas must be expressed in an original way both intellectually and photographically. The ‘super shooter’ studios have produced so much ‘stock’ material that the visual vocabulary has become incredibly stale. In the mid 90’s the same thing happened: darts on dart boards meant successful business, Doric columns meant banking, chain links meant strong corporate teamwork etc etc. You as a photographer have to keep your eyes open for the changing symbols of our changing society and in particular the vocabulary of corporate culture.

Do you think direct sales by photographers will become a more important piece of the puzzle?

Yes, I do. But it is still difficult and very costly to have a website, and to provide all the services a professional buyer expects. You must have someone available to help clients search and negotiate for as many hours a day as possible. That’s a significant overhead. But on the other hand, I have already heard about stock requests being sent out by twitter to an art buyers photographer base. It seems art buyers might be getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of material, exhausted by the samey-ness and are going back to directly contacting photographers. I think there will be other ways of making the material available direct to the client through improved google search engines for instance, but I am not sure exactly how yet! I think you are being very smart building traffic onto your site.

It is said that motion is the fastest growing segment of stock imagery. Would you recommend that still shooters look into motion?

Everyone should look into motion. My nephew went straight from stills to flipbook stills i.e. stop motion action movies made on his point and shoot camera to the video function of his mother’s camera. He is 10. But beware there is a big learning curve and don’t be fooled into thinking that affecting a ’funky style’ will hide all the mistakes on your learning curve. And don’t think that you are going to be able to earn much money with just your canon 5d. There is a lot more equipment you are going to need to make that camera stable and functional. You can’t even do a talking head without conquering the audio skills as well.

Rights Ready was Getty’s attempt to make licensing of RM imagery simpler and easier. What went wrong?

Frankly, you make Right Managed licensing easier by making rights managed licensing easier not by creating another licensing model to confuse and confound.

Do you think RM licensing needs to be made simpler to expand the market for it?

My answer, yes and no. For heaven’s sakes, how hard is it to know what you are going to use a picture for? If you as a client can answer that, then you can use any pricing model to find out how much that will cost you. If clients say they want it to be simpler it is probably a way of saying that they want it cheaper!

How do you decide whether an image belongs in RF or RM?
I used to be able to expound on this one ad nauseam, Now I just used a basic rule of thumb – an image I could see carrying an advertisement: RM. An image that is good for editorial or is purely a point picture, a substitute for a graphic, meaningless but decorative, is RF. I know some agencies are telling their photographers that they need RF pictures with higher production value, more models, more unusual treatments but it boils down to predictable, easy to keyword, subject matter. Or as I used to call it, visual Esperanto.

What roles will RM, RF and Micro have?
I think micro will kill RF before it kills RM. Two years ago everyone at Getty was saying you should get into Micro and my feeling was why bother when I am already getting .14c sales in RF? I don’t think many people can pull off a business on the scale of Yuri Arcurs because the ROI through microstock is so low that the scale of production and sales volume has to be vast to generate significant returns.

Do you have any suggestions for how to research where and what the “holes” in an agency’s collection are?

It just takes patience. I search by keyword, then delve into the details of the keywording and try combinations. Use keyword that you find in the latest business/management books. Be up to date on the jargon of corporate culture. If I have a location and am planning a shoot I list the keywords I would like to attach to a shot and then search by those and then alter aspects of my shoot brief to maximize my exposure in a clients search result. I also have an unfair advantage in searching through the Getty imagery in as much as I can assess the age of an image by its number and I am familiar with their search order results weighting. So I can search –as if I was a professional – and ‘see’ quite quickly when that category of imagery was last refreshed.

Do you think stock photography is still a viable career for photographers?

No, and I never did even when I entered the business in 1997. At the time there were a hand full of very astute professional stock photographers who had trusted the guidance of their stock agents and invested huge amounts of money into their shoots for the business. I believe their investments paid off handsomely. They had a lot of skin in the game by the late 1990s. But when I recruited photographers I always advised them to consider this a secondary source of income and not to give up their day jobs, to consider $500 or $10,000 a month a gift and not a pay check or entitlement.

You work with your husband, Photographer Seth Joel. Can you share with us the approach you two have to the stock photography industry?
Cut down production expenses. Keep a consistent stream of imagery flowing. Change it up, shoot safe for half the day and then take a risk – try something new. Make sure your images are available over as many platforms as you can. Travel. Have fun doing it.

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of stock photography?
I practice doing my own bagging every time I go to Trader Joes...secretly hoping the manager notices how good I am at it just in case....

What advice would you give a young shooter just starting out?
I teach a course in contemporary stock photography at Art Center in Pasadena so I deal with this one all the time. Essentially I say if you have a web site you are in the stock industry – you could get a call today from an art buyer wanting to license one of your images so make sure they are model released, copyrighted and you know how to price and license an image. Or you could see an image of yours being used on a website and you need to know how to get paid appropriately for that use. Then why don’t you increase the odds of that call coming in by adding more copyrighted, model released images to your web site so that all your expenses and efforts in marketing and self promotion could be paid off by one of those calls/sales. I try to teach the young photographers how to make those pictures, within the context of their own taste and style, and to make those pictures commercially relevant for contemporary advertising. There is no point just shooting random material and uploading it into a public access stock site like Shutterstock. Don’t bother for the $50 a month. Be smart, show good stuff on your website, do some good test shoots with resale value and commercial content then get a contract with one of the good third party provider companies and let them distribute your material through other aggregators over multiple platform.

How about advice for some of us veterans?

Be smart, direct your efforts. Spread your submissions out over collections, over time and over business models. Do not overspend on your productions.

Do you have a favorite stock image that you and Seth have created that you can share with us?
Hand and polar bear-See picture above.

Are there any other thoughts you would like to leave us with?

Yes, like you, it struck me it might be time for a new Tony Stone collection. A tightly edited collection of imagery for high-end advertising. But that depends on the health of the print advertising market. It is not cost effective to develop and edit a collection for web use – firstly the fees aren’t there and secondly – well lets just ask everyone - have you ever seen a good ad on the web?
Or maybe art buyers will be looking for individual freelance photo editors to sift good material out of the massive volume of images available on the www. Sounds like the 1980’s to me. And they will probably pay the same $ per hour rate as they did then too!

Charlie Holland and Seth Joel's work can be seen here: