Friday, November 20, 2009

Funny Cow Picture And A Lot To Learn

Funny Cow Pictures And Wall Decor
Every so often I create an image that just makes me happy, and this is one of them.
I had a request from a wall décor company to produce a series of  “funny cow pictures” for them to distribute as matted and framed prints. My first reaction was not exactly enthusiastic. I had a hard time envisioning cow pictures that would be of any interest in a fine art sense. But what the heck, I thought I’d give it a try. For one thing, if I were to create a series of cow pictures for the wall décor company I would retain all other rights and possibly have some good material for stock photos. Funny Holstein dairy cow stock photos, but stock photos nonetheless!

Google Searches And Cool Stock Photos
This opportunity came about because of the effort I have been putting into my web site. The wall décor company found me through a Google search. While the matted and framed prints may or may not end up being successful, this (admittedly self-proclaimed) cool stock photo was a direct result of having my work found online. Twenty plus years of selling stock images have taught me two things: First, this image will sell. Secondly, I cannot predict what images will be successful. Oh well….

Mountain Peaks, Holsteins And Seals
But getting back to that cow image. After finishing the compositing work I zoomed in to 100% to check for dust spots or other possible problems. I almost didn’t see the seals! The mountain peak in the image that the Holstein is standing on is actually a rock formation just off of ocean beach in San Francisco. When I photographed it, and during the compositing work, I never noticed the seals laying in the shadows on the rock! Like they say, the devil is in the details….

Variations, Angles And A Lot To Learn
The sky was photographed during a road trip through Colorado. The cow was photographed as part of a greeting card image.  I thought I had done a pretty thorough job of covering the Holstein when I photographed it, but now I wish I had shot a lot more variations and angles.  I still need to come up with at least a dozen more “cowscapes” and I am a little thin on cow photos and ideas. Here I am, 58 years old, having shot professionally for over thirty years, and a Photoshop user for nineteen years, and I still have so much to learn! 

Efficiency, Productivity And Strategic Thinking
I can greatly increase my efficiency and productivity if I learn to think more strategically before a shoot. The Holstein dairy cow I photographed cost me $1,200.00 to rent (including the animal trainer). If I had thought about the shoot in terms of stock production rather than in getting what I needed for a given greeting card image, I’d be in a much better place for maximizing my return on that money. But, nonetheless, I do have what I think will be a successful stock image, the end result of efforts that I have put into my web site. And maybe even more importantly, I have an image that was both fun and satisfying to create.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Evolution of Stock Photography: Guest Blog By Scott Redinger-Libolt

 Lifestyle stock photo by Redinger-Libolt ©Redinger-Libolt

There’s been a lot of industry hoopla lately about Getty, Flickr, and the flood of user-generated content (UGC).  As many professional photographers are recovering from the shock of micro-stock, they are now faced with the onslaught of UGC.  I’d like to shed some opinions on this subject in attempts to educate as well as diminish fears.  Only when we understand the origins of events can we learn from them.

UGC may seem like a temporary trend but it's not... it's simply a “well” from which to draw realness.  10 years ago, when I worked for Corbis, photo editors couldn't get enough real-looking, reportage-style pictures.  We tried relentlessly to get photographers to shoot this way ...and those few who did were very successful in stock (and assignments).  This, shoot-from-the-hip, approach was (and still is) the largest hole to fill in stock photography. 

Let's face it...  most photographers (myself included) are control freaks.  We control the light, direct the talent, approve styling, and essentially make viewers see through perspectives that we create ...not to mention the image manipulation in post (essential in my opinion - but further removes truth from the image).  Taking all of this into consideration, you can see what a challenge it would be to ask a professional photographer to relinquish some control in efforts to make their photos appear more genuine.  Ten years later, as the hunger for 'truth in advertising' still grows, UGC has arrived to feed the beast.  No one is to blame.  UGC in advertising was created out of the industry’s need for real feeling photography.  We can't fight it... we can only learn from it.

By nature of social evolution, every generation is more intelligent than those that proceeded.  I’m specifically talking about target consumer groups who’s age range remains consistent (while us photographers get older).  For many products and services, this is the younger generations who came out in record numbers to elect our current president.  In efforts to lure these increasingly-savvy consumers, companies have been very fond of showing more apparent truth.  I'll take this a step further and add my own opinion of the future; this trend will increase to the point of many clients/consumers actually being repelled by over-manipulated or obviously set-up imagery.  I've heard this already from clients as well as colleagues.

OK…  So how do we continue to add value to our photography in this ever-changing industry?  Apart from tangible tasks like casting really great talent, shooting in interesting locations, thoughtful styling, retouching, enhancements, etc...we must not forget about the two most valuable assets to any stock photograph:  Concept and Feeling.  We all know how valuable concepts have been to our earnings.  Well, "Feeling" is right up there now more than ever.  User-generated content, in it's pure form, is essentially -All Feeling-.  Viewers like to be moved by feelings of nostalgia, humor, inspiration, freedom, etc....  It’s what makes us look at an image just a little longer as it triggers an inner emotion and permits us to insert ourselves into the photo for a few seconds.  For many products, consumers are preoccupied with selling “The Feeling” one gets from buying their product.  This is nothing new except that it is now increasingly important to achieve these feelings through a genuine approach rather than an obvious set-up or an over-enhancement in post.  After a viewer takes the time to feel something real from a photograph, if their next emotion is that of being tricked or fooled, they can walk away with feelings of distrust …the last thing any corporation wants in times when investment/banking scandals continue to occupy headlines.

I'm not saying that digitally manipulated fantasies, concept shots, and over-the-top humor scenarios are dead.  The trend and need for these visuals have been around a long time and it’s just as big now as it was in years past.  It's just a bit over-subscribed in the stock libraries and agencies have shifted their attention away (exceptions being made for best-of-class, uniquely-clever executions only).  Photoshop is so easy now that enhancements that use to take hours (if not days) can be batch automated in a matter of minutes.  If you haven't noticed, the latest digital manipulation tricks have set new web standards for sharpness, contrast, and apparent depth.  So… this “hyper reality” is still well in fashion for many types of products.

I bring this up because for every trend, there is a counter trend.  It's the yin & yang of advertising and it's always been that way.  Today, as imagery becomes more manipulated, it gives power to be countered by lower-tech, higher-feeling visual trends.  Remember in the nineties when over-saturation was big?  How about Velvia?  Well, soon after the peak of high color, it gave way to the trend of unsaturated and muted color palettes.  Everyone was pulling down saturation and cranking up contrast.  Pick up any fashion magazine today and you will see a similar juxtaposition between imagery with deep, rich color followed by classic B&W photography on the next page.  Dueling trends provide a way for ads to stick out. 

Visual trends are very important waves of creative evolution.  When you think about it, co-existence of two counter trends is an imminent event since one could not survive without the other fact, they bring life to each other.  I don't like the word "trend" because it gives a feeling of a temporary fad.  On the contrary, the visual trends of the last ten years have stuck around and dictated a need for fresh content.  Just think how it would be without visual trends!  As stock photographers, we'd all be in big trouble. 

So back to adding value... I have a simple theory that I believe will open up many opportunities for growth.  To start, we need to harness the attraction of Concept and Feeling into your own photography directions.  If concept shooters can add more Feeling and realness -and- lifestyle shooters can add more Conceptual context (while maintaining realness), great things can only come from it.  That's's simple but also very, very, very important for our survival.  Bottom line, stock agencies want what is rare and hard to get.  Editors are in the business of filling holes in the collection.  It’s ironic that “reality” would be driving one of their largest holes…but if you can achieve high quality, real-looking imagery with feeling, they will love you and you should do quite well in return.  Ride the wave!

Scott Redinger-Libolt is a photography specialist who has worked both inside most of the big stock agencies and outside shooting for them under the alias of "PBNJ Productions" for the last 14 years.  Scott and his wife Cristina are based in Miami Beach where they shoot a healthy mix of stock and assignment.  Their work can be viewed at:

scott redinger-libolt
redinger-libolt photo
miami beach  305.861.3565
los angeles  310.994.9226

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Awareness, Intention and Energy In Photography

The Practice of Aikido In Photography
Until recently I used to practice the martial art of Aikido. While I gave up the physical practice of Aikido (bad knees, etc.), I am still finding it a great practice in my life and business.  In Aikido you blend with your opponent or attacker and then redirect their energy away from you. You are responsible both for protecting yourself as well as for the safety of your attacker. It is bad karma for you if you either allow someone to hurt you, or if you injure them. For me, the true power of Aikido is not so much in throwing people (and being thrown) in the dojo, but rather the practice of Aikido in everyday life and, in my case, in my photography career.

A Universal Law With Stock Photographers

I will be getting my Getty sales report in a couple of days, and I was thinking about how when the report is good I get fired up to make more images, and when it is not so good I get discouraged. This seems to be pretty much a universal law with the stock photographers I know and talk to, and the last thing any of us can afford to do in this market is get discouraged. All of us, no matter how accomplished, are going to have those moments of negative energy that we must rise above in order to reach continuing success.

Redirecting Energy Into Creativity And Productivity

As I mentioned before, in Aikido, we are taught to utilize an attacker's energy against that attacker by redirecting it. Rather than get bowled over by a bad sales report, an unfavorable edit, or a difficult shoot, I want to be able to redirect that hit of energy into creative and productive activities. This largely amounts to awareness and intention. I maintain awareness of my tendencies and I keep the intention of what I want to accomplish. I want to stay positive, to keep my energy high, and flowing in productive directions.

Awareness, Intention And A Plan

When I get those negative energy hits it helps me to have a plan to fall back on. A plan allows me to avoid indecision about what I should be doing and be sure that my energy is directed towards what is important to advance my career. Awareness helps me know what to expect, intention gets me moving, and a plan allows me to move efficiently into my next step.

Be A Conductor Orchestrating Energy

In Aikido the goal is not to resist energy but to flow with it. In this time of transformation for the photography industry it makes far more sense to flow with the forces of change than to resist a power that is so much stronger than we are. Let that energy propel you into new ways to succeed. Another visual metaphor for this approach is that of a conductor who orchestrates the energy rather than trying oppose it. But whatever the visual or the metaphor, the important point is that while we cannot dictate what is going on around us, we can choose how we react and deal with those forces. For me, keeping the principles of Aikido in mind, and having a plan, helps me to do just that.