Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cloud Computing: Anatomy of a Stock Photo

"Cloud Computing" is an example of a newly popularized phrase; new phrases and buzzwords can signal opportunities and generate ideas."

Popular Vernacular, Stock Photos And Cloud Computing
One of the biggest challenges for stock photographers is to come up, time after time, with good ideas. Ideas can come from anywhere, but a very good place to get them from is popular vernacular. When a new word or phrase becomes popular it means there is something important going on that is being talked about. That something needs images to describe it for advertising, for promotion, and for editorial coverage. And because it is new, there probably aren't a lot of appropriate images already in place for those purposes. So when I hear a new buzzword (or phrase) I haven't heard before, I listen to it with an ear for opportunity.  Cloud computing is one of those phrases. Sometimes these things just slip by your radar. In this case, I kept getting spam talking about cloud computing. Like advertisements I managed ignore a goodly number of the unwanted emails until, in mid delete, I had one of those aha! moments. If it is worth spamming about, maybe an image is called for!

Cloud Computing, Ones and Zeros, and A Difficult Concept
Cloud Computing refers to the use of computer programs and applications that are based on a remote server and accessed via the Internet. Cloud computing is also a difficult concept to portray in a stock photograph, and a concept with very few images existing that specifically illustrate it.  This is one of those concepts, that at least to me, the illustration for which seems almost too obvious. Data is represented by ones and zeros, so a parade of ones and zeros, composed of clouds, streaming through the sky can perfectly represent cloud computing and even more related themes. Such an image can also represent networking, communications, and information flow.

Cloudscapes and Perspective

The only catch here is that the image is a difficult one to execute, at least for me. I used Photoshop to take cloud images from various photographs and then, using the liquefy filter and the warp tool, and a lot of layers and layer masks, create a series of ones and zeros. After creating a library of "information", I selected an appropriate cloudscape and then copied and pasted in the "data".  It is important when creating the ones and zeros to give them at least a semblance of the correct perspective and fine-tuning was definitely necessary when arranging the images.  I used Transform>perspective and Transform>distort to do the perspective fine-tuning. Blending the clouds in is also somewhat of a tricky task. In some cases setting the layer mode to "lighten only" does the trick; in other cases it is more a case of painstaking work "painting" the clouds in and out with a layer mask.  The entire process took me a little over two days to do.

Rights Managed or Royalty Free
Once the image is complete then a decision has to be made on distribution. The decision needs to be made as to whether to distribute the stock photo as a Rights Managed image or a Royalty Free image.  There are a number of factors that have to be considered to make that decision. If the image is one that will be licensed frequently then RF might be the way to go. If the image is harder to find a use for, then a higher payment per use is necessary (especially for an image that takes several days to create). That would indicate a RM classification for the stock photo. Of course, these days, with the deep discounting that is going on such as Getty's Premium Access program, it is hard to argue that RM is necessarily going to fetch a higher licensing fee. One other factor that needs to be taken into account is the photographer's share of revenue. With RF images the photographer generally gets 20% of the licensing fee, and with RM images, at least in the photographer's home territory, the photographer's share is 40%, double what one gets with RF. As of yet I still have not made a final decision with this "cloud computing" image, maybe I'll flip a coin!