Monday, November 8, 2010

Having Fun and Making Money In Stock Photography

Funny picture of a tourist mounting an elephant during
"Mounting" an elephant during "Mahout" training can be...well...scary (but fun)!

Crop in on my face and you can see how much fun I really am having!

Elephants, Crocodiles and Creativity and Fun
I have just returned from a quick trip to Thailand where I photographed elephants, crocodiles, tigers and the flotsam and jetsam of travel. Getting out of my normal existence both provides me with fresh material to create my images and reminds me that there is so much more than sitting behind the computer creating stock photos. On this trip I got to hang out with elephants (during a "Mahout training experience"), play (that's right...I said play) with tigers, get a glimpse of everyday life in Thailand while visiting a Thai friend, got to taste coagulated pork blood (in an otherwise pretty good soup) and just plain had fun. Travel gets me recharged and stimulates new ideas and creativity, and a big part of that is having fun!

There Is Still Money To Be Made In Stock Photography
One of the first things I did when I got into my studio this morning was to check out my sales report at Blend Images. It was encouraging to see one image that I recently created, in its first quarter, made fourteen sales and brought in $343.73 cents to me. Sure, there was one sale for $1.40...a sign of the times, but there was one sale for $126.00 and several in the $50.00 range. It seems strange to be enthusiastic for such small sums (coming from an RM background) but they do add up. Keep in mind also, that this was the first quarter that this image was available and, if it follows the norm, sales will build over time. I have noticed that a satisfyingly high number of my recent images have been doing well. There are other images that sold more times, and a whole lot of images that sold fewer times, and made me less money, but this one caught my eye because I really didn't expect it to do quite this well. After twenty plus years in stock I still can't tell how well an image will do with any certainty, but at least I can say that despite all of the negative news out there, there is still money to be made in stock photography.

RM vs. RF: A Balancing Act
One thing that isn't fun for me is determining whether an image should be RM or RF. The image in question is an RF image. I create and contribute RF images because I actually do make money on them. I am convinced that for some images they will make much more as RF than RM.  On the other hand many designers and art directors I speak with claim they can't afford RM images. Of course, I think they are mistaken...but what they believe becomes their reality and I believe it would be a mistake to abandon such a huge section of the market for stock photos. I prefer to make images for the RM market, and I still make about half of my images for that RM market, but RF has become integral to my income. My Rights Managed income has  become much more volatile while the Royalty Free income is much more stable. I am always performing a balancing-act trying to decide which images to put where, which will do best in RM and which in RF. It makes me a little bit crazy, but then you have to be a bit daft to be in the business anyway!

Old Concepts, New Work and Inspiration
I have to admit that upon returning to my studio I also took a quick look at some of the new work on various agencies. It is a little frightening to see the never-ending torrent of un-original work that continues to pour into the marketplace. What a treat it is to come across the occasional image that has some emotional appeal, some clever new way of expressing a tried-and-true concept, and especially to come across an image that is so special it blows me away and encourages me to press all that much harder to come up with my own images that are truly worthwhile.  I have to admit that finding images that really inspire me doesn't usually come from searching stock agencies. Such special images are certainly in the agency collections, but can get buried pretty deeply in with all the lesser images.  In any case, it sure seems clear to me when I look through photography, whether it is in agency collections, magazines or just Googling the net, my future in stock is in making unique and interesting imagery. Actually, I believe that anyone who hopes to do well in stock photography needs to be making at least some images that inspire. For me, one of the best ways to creativity, and therefore inspirational images, is through having fun!

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