Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Case Against A Stock Photo Niche


Business on the go, speed, and connections are the concepts illustrated by this stock photo.
Business-on-the-go is a popular stock photo concept and comes with an over supply of imagery. Financial success will come to the photographer who can best create images that satisfy that concept and compete successfully with the other images.

Creating Images That Compete
One piece of common advice for photographers is to specialize, to find a niche’ and focus on it. Particularly in these days of image over supply you hear how important it is to shoot images that aren’t competing with the plethora of popular subjects…a favorite example being that of a person on a cell phone. I personally feel that such advice should be taken with a grain or two of salt. I believe it is important to create images that, rather than not competing, are competing successfully. If you want to have a successful (read “earn lots of money”) career in stock photography you need to shoot the popular subjects…and you need to diversify…both of which fly in the face of advice pointing one towards a “specialty”.

The Case For Specialization In Photography
Ever since I started my pro career back in the mid-seventies I have heard that I needed to specialize. I certainly believe that specialization does make it easier to get assignment work…and indeed, back when I shot assignments I did specialize. I specialized in location work; I specialized in agricultural photography, I specialized in special effects photography, I specialized in Photoshop work and on occasion I specialized in a lot of things I don’t even remember! But I do remember that I always resented the fact that I had to specialize…and one of the great “aha!” moments I had was when I realized that in shooting stock I didn’t have to narrow myself to any one subject or style.  Indeed, that was one of the main reasons I gave up assignment work for stock.

A Photo Niche and Less Revenue
While developing a niche for your stock photography may be right for you if you market your own work and can get an appropriately high licensing fee then more power to you. It will be rare to find an agency that will demand a higher price for such imagery so if you distribute through the typical agency you will simply end up with fewer sales and less revenue.

The Secret to Success
I believe the secret to success is to create images that do cater to the popular categories and subject matter…but to create images that clients will want more than the other guy’s picture. Not an easy task…but I am not promising a rose garden here. To achieve success in stock you are going to have to create truly compelling images of popular categories and subject matter and distribute them effectively. That means choosing the right model for the image (RM, RF or Micro), being prolific for the type of imagery you are doing (for me being prolific is a few hundred images a year) and choosing agencies that people actually go to and license from.

Testing The Waters
I also believe in diversifying. Having a primary style, for example, is fine, and in some cases is so strong it is hard to argue with (think Colin Anderson). But for most of us mere mortals it is important to try new things to both test the waters for finding out if there is a strong demand for new styles, and to insure that if demand changes for the style (or subject) that is our bread and butter, we won’t be left high and dry. Besides, trying new styles (or subjects) out can help keep us fresh and creative.

Business On The Go
In my recent trip to Thailand to shoot source material for my stock images I played a lot with zooming during my exposures as well as shooting long exposures of lights at night. The past two days I have given myself “permission” to play with those images the result being a series that are unlike other images I see on stock sites. While the style is an experiment, the concepts of speed, transportation, shipping and business on the go are popular ones and always in demand. Will these images sell? My gut tells me they will…but it also tells me they won’t sell a lot…so I will place these images in the Rights Managed category.  By the way, my gut is not always right…but I will find out if this is a viable style by having these images out there in circulation.

Images I Want To Create
I want to create images that compete effectively for popular categories and subjects, I want to stay fresh and creative, and I want to continually test the waters for what images the market place wants. For me, and my career in stock photography, shooting for a niche is not the way to go.


11 comments:

Sami Sarkis said...

I couldn't be more agree with you John!
Recently I've commented Paul Melcher article about 'Carving a Photo Niche...' (http://rising.blackstar.com/are-you-carving-a-photography-niche-—-or-digging-your-career-in-a-hole.html) and it is almost what you said: diversifying, testing waters, etc.
Here is what I wrote:
'Paul, I'm so glad I've read your article. Full of good to hear common sense!
I'm not a niche photographer and sometimes I used to regret it but it is how it is, you can't force yourself to shoot something. So I'm shooting what I love, and this vary a lot from a year to another.
I'm now convinced that one of the reasons I'm still making a (good) living from my stock photos it is because I cover a broad variety of themes and subjects. I have proofs in my sales figures that there's some seasonal 'trends' for one type of imagery, not another. That sometimes everybody buy this and the next day it's gone, could be forever or just for a while!
Variety is my insurance against roller coaster sales those days. And more than ever it is my route.'

Sami Sarkis - www.sarkis.com

Thom Gourley said...

I'm very glad to hear a successful stock photographer like yourself say something about this common advice to specialize, especially in stock. I can't believe that any stock buyer really cares!

I shoot a variety of 'nobody' shots (mainly because I can't afford models yet) as well as a lot of theatre, portraiture, as well as my own fine art abstract work. I need the abstract to balance the more commercial work and vice versa.

This is just one of those arbitrary 'rules' that begs to be broken!

Rohn Engh said...

Since the turn of the century, stock photography has been experiencing a shift. The shift is in both the marketplace and in technology.
Here at PhotoSource International, we’ve been observing the influence this tidal change has been having on marketing for many photographers.
At PhotoSource, our efforts are geared primarily to encouraging emerging stock photographers and those photographers who are serious part-timers who want to establish a supplementary revenue stream through selling their photographs. Since the introduction of our PhotoLetter marketletter in 1976, we have been observing what’s been working for hundreds of editorial stock photographers. I can speak only for that segment of the industry.
In the 80’s and 90’s the tendency for photographers new to the marketplace was to enter the field as “generalists,” and photograph ‘across the board.’ They were following the model set by established stock photographers, where it was commonplace to play the field and diversify. Some succeeded in being “generalists.” Others narrowed their focus down to a select few subject areas and pursued only those areas to build a deep selection of specialized photos.
And then the shift came. With the advent of the digital era at the turn of the century, the technology shift made it easier for stock photographers to reach multiple specialized markets both here and abroad. Conversely, buyers at these specialized markets, thanks to the new technology, knowing they could be more precise in their photo requests and eventual selection of photos, began building lists of photographers who were knowledgeable in the specific subject areas these markets focused on.
With photographers, the new technology also added a quicker delivery system plus a wider market range from both local to international. This new digital era was not without its faults. It brought in even more new competing photographers who could provide the precise photos that buyers needed, thanks to the swiftness of search engines and large stock photography portals.
The dust has not settled. Social networks such as FACEBOOK have spawned new pathways between photo supplier and photobuyer. Dedicated “communities” are now beginning to form on the Internet. It’s good to find others who think the way you do, which makes it even easier to reach target markets for both suppliers and buyers. We separate into groups of like-minded people. We are comfortable. It’s a form of specialization. Customers want expertise for their dollars. And it’s good for business. This alone is a game changer and the phenomenon is moving forward swiftly.
Stock photographers can continue to diversify today, but at their peril. The primary marketing method for generalists is to place their top-notch photos in major stock agencies. But this strategy today has drawbacks. Generalists are experiencing less revenue both in frequency and dollar amount.
From our viewpoint here at PhotoSource International, it appears that the “all around photographer” of the last century, no matter which model, RM, RF or M-Stock, has less of a chance to survive financially. Specialists, in contrast, market their photos themselves with complete control over their own destiny, with help from today’s electronic marketing devices, plug-ins and procedures. By focusing on a few select target subject areas, photographers can make themselves a steady and valuable resource to a targeted number of specialized markets.
The serious part-time stock photographer can develop dependable markets and create a steady recurring income stream compared to the uncertain intermittent checks experienced by those breaking into the stock photo field as a generalist in today’s economic climate.
For the stock photographer just starting out, or starting over, consider specializing.
-Rohn Engh

Rohn Engh said...

Thanks, John, for your instructive blogs.

I would have to disagree with you on this one.

Since the turn of the century, stock photography has been experiencing a shift. The shift is in both the marketplace and in technology. Here at PhotoSource International, we’ve been observing the influence this tidal change has been having on marketing for many stock photographers.
At PhotoSource, our efforts are geared primarily to encouraging emerging stock photographers and those photographers who are serious part-timers who want to establish a supplementary revenue stream through selling their photographs.Since the introduction of our PhotoLetter marketletter in 1976, we have been observing what’s been working for hundreds of editorial stock photographers. I can speak only for that segment of the industry.
In the 80’s and 90’s the tendency for photographers new to the marketplace was to enter the field as “generalists,” and photograph ‘across the board.’ They were following the model set by established stock photographers, where it was commonplace to play the field and diversify. Some succeeded in being “generalists.” Others narrowed their focus down to a select few subject areas and pursued only those areas to build a deep selection of specialized photos.
And then the shift came. With the advent of the digital era at the turn of the century, the technology shift made it easier for stock photographers to reach multiple specialized markets both here and abroad. Conversely, buyers at these specialized markets, thanks to the new technology, knowing they could be more precise in their photo requests and eventual selection of photos, began building lists of photographers who were knowledgeable in the specific subject areas these markets focused on.
With photographers, the new technology also added a quicker delivery system plus a wider market range from both local to international. This new digital era was not without its faults. It brought in even more new competing photographers who could provide the precise photos that buyers needed, thanks to the swiftness of search engines and large stock photography portals.
The dust has not settled. Social networks such as FACEBOOK have spawned new pathways between photo supplier and photobuyer. Dedicated “communities” are now beginning to form on the Internet. It’s good to find others who think the way you do, which makes it even easier to reach target markets for both suppliers and buyers. We separate into groups of like-minded people. We are comfortable. It’s a form of specialization. Customers want expertise for their dollars. And it’s good for business. This alone is a game changer and the phenomenon is moving forward swiftly.
Stock photographers will be able to continue to diversify today, but at their peril. The primary marketing method for generalists is to place their top-notch photos in major stock agencies. But this strategy today has drawbacks. Generalists are experiencing less revenue both in frequency and dollar amount.
From our viewpoint here at PhotoSource International, it appears that the “all around photographer” of the last century, no matter which model, RM, RF or M-Stock, has less of a chance to survive financially. Specialists, in contrast, market their photos themselves with complete control over their own destiny, with help from today’s electronic marketing devices, plug-ins and procedures. By focusing on a few select target subject areas, photographers can make themselves a steady and valuable resource to a targeted number of specialized markets.
The serious part-time stock photographer can develop dependable markets and create a steady recurring income stream compared to the uncertain intermittent checks experienced by those breaking into the stock photo field as a generalist in today’s economic climate.
For the stock photographer just starting out, or starting over, consider specializing.
-Rohn www.photostocknotes.com/psn

Rohn Engh said...

Thanks, John, for your instructive blogs. I would have to disagree with you on this one.

Since the turn of the century, as you know, stock photography has been experiencing a shift. The shift is in both the marketplace and in technology.
Here at PhotoSource International, we’ve been observing the influence this tidal change has been having on marketing for many stock photographers.

At PhotoSource, our efforts are geared primarily to encouraging emerging stock photographers and those photographers who are serious part-timers who want to establish a supplementary revenue stream through selling their photographs.
Since the introduction of our PhotoLetter marketletter in 1976, we have been observing what’s been working for hundreds of editorial stock photographers. I can speak only for that segment of the industry.

In the 80’s and 90’s the tendency for photographers new to the marketplace was to enter the field as “generalists,” and photograph ‘across the board.’ They were following the model set by established stock photographers, where it was commonplace to play the field and diversify. Some succeeded in being “generalists.” Others narrowed their focus down to a select few subject areas and pursued only those areas to build a deep selection of specialized photos.
And then the shift came. With the advent of the digital era at the turn of the century, the technology shift made it easier for stock photographers to reach multiple specialized markets both here and abroad. Conversely, buyers at these specialized markets, thanks to the new technology, knowing they could be more precise in their photo requests and eventual selection of photos, began building lists of photographers who were knowledgeable in the specific subject areas these markets focused on.
With photographers, the new technology also added a quicker delivery system plus a wider market range from both local to international. This new digital era was not without its faults. It brought in even more new competing photographers who could provide the precise photos that buyers needed, thanks to the swiftness of search engines and large stock photography portals.
The dust has not settled. Social networks such as FACEBOOK have spawned new pathways between photo supplier and photobuyer.

Dedicated “communities” are now beginning to form on the Internet. It’s good to find others who think the way you do, which makes it even easier to reach target markets for both suppliers and buyers. We separate into groups of like-minded people. We are comfortable. It’s a form of specialization. Customers want expertise for their dollars. And it’s good for business. This alone is a game changer and the phenomenon is moving forward swiftly.

Stock photographers will continue to diversify today, but at their peril.

The primary marketing method for generalists is to place their top-notch photos in major stock agencies. But this strategy today has drawbacks. Generalists are experiencing less revenue both in frequency and dollar amount.

From our viewpoint here at PhotoSource International, it appears that the “all around photographer” of the last century, no matter which model, RM, RF or M-Stock, has less of a chance to survive financially.

Specialists, in contrast, market their photos themselves with complete control over their own destiny, with help from today’s electronic marketing devices, plug-ins and procedures. By focusing on a few select target subject areas, photographers can make themselves a steady and valuable resource to a targeted number of specialized markets.

The serious part-time stock photographer can develop dependable markets and create a steady recurring income stream compared to the uncertain intermittent checks experienced by those breaking into the stock photo field as a generalist in today’s economic climate.
For the stock photographer just starting out, or starting over, consider specializing.

Rohn Engh
www.photostocknotes.com/psn

Rohn Engh said...

Thanks, John, for your instructive blogs. I would have to disagree with you on this one.

Since the turn of the century, as you know, stock photography has been experiencing a shift. The shift is in both the marketplace and in technology. Here at PhotoSource International, we’ve been observing the influence this tidal change has been having on marketing for many stock photographers.
At PhotoSource, our efforts are geared primarily to encouraging emerging stock photographers and those photographers who are serious part-timers who want to establish a supplementary revenue stream through selling their photographs. Since the introduction of our PhotoLetter marketletter in 1976, we have been observing what’s been working for hundreds of editorial stock photographers. I can speak only for that segment of the industry.
In the 80’s and 90’s the tendency for photographers new to the marketplace was to enter the field as “generalists,” and photograph ‘across the board.’ They were following the model set by established stock photographers, where it was commonplace to play the field and diversify. Some succeeded in being “generalists.” Others narrowed their focus down to a select few subject areas and pursued only those areas to build a deep selection of specialized photos.
And then the shift came. With the advent of the digital era at the turn of the century, the technology shift made it easier for stock photographers to reach multiple specialized markets both here and abroad. Conversely, buyers at these specialized markets, thanks to the new technology, knowing they could be more precise in their photo requests and eventual selection of photos, began building lists of photographers who were knowledgeable in the specific subject areas these markets focused on.
With photographers, the new technology also added a quicker delivery system plus a wider market range from both local to international. This new digital era was not without its faults. It brought in even more new competing photographers who could provide the precise photos that buyers needed, thanks to the swiftness of search engines and large stock photography portals.
The dust has not settled. Social networks such as FACEBOOK have spawned new pathways between photo supplier and photobuyer. Dedicated “communities” are now beginning to form on the Internet. It’s good to find others who think the way you do, which makes it even easier to reach target markets for both suppliers and buyers. We separate into groups of like-minded people. We are comfortable. It’s a form of specialization. Customers want expertise for their dollars. And it’s good for business. This alone is a game changer and the phenomenon is moving forward swiftly.
Continued...

Rohn Engh said...

continuation. . .

Stock photographers will continue to diversify today, but at their peril. The primary marketing method for generalists is to place their top-notch photos in major stock agencies. But this strategy today has drawbacks. Generalists are experiencing less revenue both in frequency and dollar amount.
From our viewpoint here at PhotoSource International, it appears that the “all around photographer” of the last century, no matter which model, RM, RF or M-Stock, has less of a chance to survive financially. Specialists, in contrast, market their photos themselves with complete control over their own destiny, with help from today’s electronic marketing devices, plug-ins and procedures.

By focusing on a few select target subject areas, photographers can make themselves a steady and valuable resource to a targeted number of specialized markets.

The serious part-time stock photographer can develop dependable markets and create a steady recurring income stream compared to the uncertain intermittent checks experienced by those breaking into the stock photo field as a generalist in today’s economic climate.

For the stock photographer who is reading this and just starting out, or starting over, consider specializing.

Rohn Engh
www.photostocknotes.com/psn

Steve Debenport said...

Interesting topic John. I'm not sure I totally agree with you at this point, but it is something I'll be thinking about. I do think that specialization is over-rated though. Producing high quality, interesting, and useful images is at least as important in my opinion. Wait a second, you're not trying to throw the rest of us off here with reverse psychology are you?

CrackerClips said...

Hi John,

We met briefly 15 yrs ago or so at a Getty photographers meeting in Los Angeles. If I remember correctly you were wearing a long wig:)
Anyway, I very much agree with what you are saying regarding niche specialization. I'm a generalists for sure. I shoot what interests me and try to do so with a commercial eye. This enables me to shoot my best work as well as have a variety of material that crosses many markets rather than rely on just one. I understand what Ron Engh is getting at but there is a difference between shooting stock for commercial markets vs. primarily editorial ones. It may make the most sense to specialize as an editorial photographer while specializing may not work out so well as a commercial stock shooter.

Thanks, I enjoy your blog!

Bryan Mullennix
www.crackerclips.com

John Lund said...

Ron,

It is hard to argue with your reasoning...and yet I believe that my reasoning is sound as well. Colin Anderson mentioned to me that he was once told that making great images (I am paraphrasing here) was pretty special. That is the niche I want to occupy...the niche of "special" images. If you have a niche that you are passionate about, and that there is enough demand for to provide you with a living meets your desires...great! But for those of us who love shooting a variety of things there is still a lot of opportunity out there...it is just harder to tap into.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Johnbucterani

John Lund said...

Bryan,

Ahh the wig! Those were the days....

It is always nice to get some support and I respect your experience in the market and appreciate your thoughts.

Thanks!

John

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