Friday, December 4, 2009

SEO: Opening Doors For Stock And Assignment Photography

 The song and dance of getting photography assignments vrs. optimizing your web site for both assignment and stock photos.

Stock And Assignments
I think about stock photos all the time, but every once-in-a-while I think about assignments. There are a lot of good things about assignments; Money, fresh ideas, subsidized stock, the camaraderie of working with bright, motivated people, did I mention money?  But there are some downsides too. They take a lot of time. There is pressure. There is having to do things that you don't want to be doing. There is the stress of working with idiots (or at least people who think differently than you do).  And, oh yes, there is getting the assignments, the song and dance routine that all of us working pros know so well!

Time, Energy And Money

Those of you who are in the assignment world know of what I am speaking. There is constantly putting books together, putting time, energy and money into figuring out the coolest look, compiling prospect lists, shooting for the book, taking out ads in source books, shipping portfolios, keeping track of portfolios and so forth. Then there are the estimates. It can take an enormous amount of time and effort to put together good, accurate estimates. Unless you are truly exceptional a lot of those estimates will turn out to be, well, if not a waste of time at least a less than optimal use of your time.

Books Open Doors

But like I said, assignments can be good. The last assignment I did brought in $130,000.00 after expenses. I would be open to more of those, particularly because I didn't spend any time seeking that assignment. It just came to me. It came to me because I had written a book on Photoshop (Adobe Masterclass: Photoshop Compositing With John Lund). They say you don't make money off of books, but books open doors for you. I didn't make appreciable money in royalties from my book, but my client said that they hired me because of it. That book opened many doors for me and some of them were quite rewarding!

Art Directors, Art Buyers, And Designers Looking For Me
So I am OK with assignments, when they come, and if they are right for me. But I have no desire to jump through hoops to get them. I prefer to put my energy into my stock photography. Part of that stock effort includes SEO to get more eyeballs onto my images. But effective SEO will bring more than just stock clients. Art directors, art buyers, designers and others who are looking for a photographer with the look and style that I offer will find me. These people will be looking for me as opposed to me struggling to find them and get their attention. How cool is that? Just last week a licensing agent contacted me, all excited about the work I am doing, and exclaimed, “It was so easy to find you!”  It has been a year of heavy SEO now, but it is starting to work.

SEO Opens Doors

Good SEO is like that book. It opens doors. In the short time I have been working on optimizing my site I have had a surprising number of opportunities come my way. Some of them include a contract with a wall d├ęcor company, negotiations underway for a line of greeting cards, and a possible calendar deal. I have also executed one assignment and turned a couple of others down.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg. I believe that it will probably be another year before my SEO really kicks in…at least in a big way. I am totally confident that I will look back and be truly glad that I put the time and effort into making my site come up early in appropriate searches.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

To Stop Photo Theft, The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

My "Animal Antics" funny animal pictures, such as these two bulldogs sumo wrestling, are my most infringed upon images.
Appropriated Images And Lost Opportunities
Sometimes it makes me a little crazy when I do a Google search for my images and find image after image appropriated with no reference to me at all.  The vast majority of these infringements are not worth chasing after, but they still annoy the heck out of me. I also can't help but wonder how all of these pictures, that I have worked so hard to create, being loose on the internet without my name represents a "dilution" or at least a lost opportunity in regards to my personal branding. But what to do? How can I defend against such image theft?

Minor Infractions And An Unhappy Ego

I few times I have tried to request that offenders take down my pictures, but the amount of time I have to invest in that is kind of ridiculous. When I complained to flickr about an infringement what they required of me to get them to take action, well, I looked at for a moment and said “aw the hell with it!”  Same deal with Squidoo, or innumerable other cases of bloggers and such making use of my photos; minor infractions with a lot of hassle to get my images taken down. Most of these cases of my purloined imagery hold absolutely no opportunity for any monetary gain, so it might just be a case of my unhappy ego, or as mentioned above, a dilution or loss of branding opportunity.

The Best Defense Is A Good Offense

It has taken awhile, but I have come up with a defense strategy. In this case it is a return to the old maxim that "The Best Defense Is A Good Offense". That strategy is to get my images up as quickly as possible in any and all searches that might return them in the results, and to have my name on those images.  I put that name up as ©  That way people know the images are copyrighted, and if they have half a brain (I might be generous here) they can find me to license the images, or at least ask for my permission. Recently I have had several examples of people tracking me down because they did see my images used somewhere and did have that credit line on them, so I know, that at least to some degree, that process can work.

SEO, Name And Copyright, And Personal Branding
I have already wholeheartedly committed to SEO and getting my images seen, but this adds just that much more incentive to do so. People only steal the images if they find them, therefore I want them to see my images first with my copyright and name clearly on them. That way there is a much higher probability that I will benefit at least in some way, and that outright theft will be lower. Years ago a friend and I created a company to distribute training films.  Our first film was titled "The Ten Billion Dollar Rip Off". It was a video to show to store employees detailing the damage of employee theft and the various repercussions.  Apparently, just showing that video to employees, significantly reduced employee theft.  Having your name and copyright notice on an image is a step in that direction. I don’t think it will stop non-commercial picture pilfering (love that phrase), but it will at least increase my name awareness, my personal branding, if you will, and will contribute to deterring commercial use of unauthorized images.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wrestling With Cats: Story Of A Funny Cat Picture

Anthropomorphic Animals And Cats Wrestling
It was very early on in my Animal Antics series of anthropomorphized animal pictures for greeting card when I was given the task of shooting Big Time Wrestling…with cats.
At that point I had only done four or five such images. I was doing the compositing work with Live Picture, which at the time had better tools for selecting the hair and fur. But neither Photoshop nor Live Picture was anywhere near the tool that Photoshop is today.

Excitement, Intimidation And Challenge

When I saw the sketch from the art director I was both excited and intimidated. It was easily the most challenging job I had been asked to do yet, but done well, would be a really cool image that would certainly stand out from everything else out there. The original sketch did not show the audience, and for better or worse, I suggested that we make the audience all cats. Boy did that turn into a nightmare!

Blood, Sweat And Funny Animal Photos

To create this funny animal photo my art director, Collette Kulak, had a miniature boxing or wrestling ring built. She also crafted, herself, small plastic cat-sized uniforms. Now photographing cats is not an easy process. Photographing cats, upside down, wearing miniature wrestling uniforms…now that is a challenge! This was way back before we had mastered the process, and we were doing our best to actually get the cats into the necessary poses. Now we just shoot one part at a time and it is one heck of a lot easier!
We did manage to get all the shots I needed, but not without shedding just a little blood, sweat and, well, thankfully, there were no tears.

An Audience Of Cats And 1000 Layers

It took me about two days to assemble the main elements of the picture. Then I set about building the audience of cats. That was my idea, right? Man! Everytime I would drop one cat’s face in I would have to adjust the one next to it, then the one next to it, and so on. Plus, I only had about twelve different cat faces to work with, and I didn’t it to look like I was using the same ones over and over. To help with that I had the background go darker and darker the further back the audience receded. By the time I had completed the image I had over 1000 layers (in Live Picture…Photoshop wouldn’t go over 99 layers back then).

A Poster, Books And Greeting Cards

At nine days of imaging, the cat-wrestling photo takes the record for the longest time I have ever spent digitally manipulating a single composite image. This funny cat photo has been used as a poster, in books, as a greeting card (still being distributed) and in a variety of other uses. It is still one of my favorite images…though I may be influenced by what a challenge it was to create, a phenomena that must of us photographers, ah, wrestle with!

 Research Your Clients, And Get An Advance
When licensing your images it is really important to research your clients thoroughly and to only license the rights for an image that a given client needs and is good at distributing. A company that is great at selling and distributing greeting cards may not be particularly good at distributing calendars. In the long run you will do better by researching your clients and paying close attention to your licensing. If your client does not distribute, and distribute effectively through out the world, then don't give up world rights! I would also recommend getting an advance. Just recently I agreed to let a company distribute my images in a calendar without an advance. The company folded, sold the rights to the calendar to another company who also then folded. I end up with nothing. Research your clients, pay attention to the rights you license, and get an advance.