Thursday, January 14, 2010

Accepting Responsibility, The Cornerstone Of Success In Photography

Taking total responsibility for yourself, is a cornerstone for success as a photographer.

Responsibility For Success or Failure
A good friend of mine called me today and let me know he had just been laid off. He was in a high-paying management job, and his boss came in today and out-of-the-blue fired him. That has to be devastating. When I think of all the down sides of working for someone else it reminds me of how fortunate I am to be self-employed. If I put in the work, I get the reward. There are no office politics to deal with, no personality conflicts, and no one I have to count on to pull me out of a jam. I am totally responsible for my own success or failure. No one can fire me.

Blaming Robs You of Your Power

While it is true that no one can fire me, my career does seem under threat. Photographers, particularly long-time stock shooters, are having a difficult time. My own income is down almost thirty-perecent…which isn’t too bad by a lot of accounts. But if you truly accept full responsibility for your self, there is no blaming. I don’t blame the micro stock shooters and I don’t blame Getty or any of the other agencies. Blaming others just robs you of your power. That doesn’t mean I like the downward price pressure from micro stock competition, or the fact that Corbis just lowered my royalty percentage, or the fact that Getty is now sending me royalties of less than a dollar per license. It is just that complaining about it not only doesn’t do any good, but it actually directs my energy away from dealing effectively with the new realities.

Responsibility Means Learning
Accepting total responsibility for your success or failure is perhaps the key step for successfully competing in photography today…at least if you want to make a decent living at it. To succeed in the face of the kind of overwhelming competition that is emerging in this flickr, iStock, and Internet era requires total commitment. It means a whole lot more than making great photos. It means learning about distribution, learning about the market, and learning your craft. Sometimes it means learning something difficult to learn that you may not end up using at all. I am learning SEO. I have been learning Final Cut Pro and have no idea if I will eventually end up needing it or not. I haven’t yet tried shooting video with a DSLR, but I am going to because I think I would be remiss if I didn’t explore that possibility. I am taking full responsibility for my future as a professional photographer.

Industry Assessment, Opportunities, and Strategic Thinking

Being responsible for your future means realistically assessing the photography industry and where you fit in, where the new opportunities are, and which ones you are both suited for and interested in pursuing. I believe that strategic thinking is going to get more and more important. It used to be, with stock, you just had to make great images, or heck, even not-so-great images, and send them in. I my mind there is no doubt that this business is just going to get harder and require more and more strategic thinking. If you are not ready to take total responsibility for your photography future then your future might be in serious doubt.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Circling Vultures, Story Of A Stock Photo

Bing used my stock photo of circling vultures for its search engine background. The image is handled by Getty Images.
Circling Vultures, Bing And Getty
Yesterday Bing was using one of my stock photos for its background image…a shot of vultures circling overhead. Getty Images handles the licensing for that particular image. It will be interesting to see how much they licensed it for. I can pretty much guarantee it will be for less than I think they should have licensed it for!

Negative Images Can Sell Well
The picture is a good example of a negative image that can sell well, as well as one that cost almost nothing to create. The only cost, really, was my time. I photographed the vultures as they flew over my studio (hmmmm, wonder if that is significant…), one at a time, then used Photoshop to composite them together and create the sun flare.

Composition, Flexibility and Body Copy
I paid careful attention to the composition (Bing has cropped in just a bit) so that it would have the flexibility to be used for both verticals and horizontals. I placed the circling buzzards off-center to allow both for visual interest and to provide a clear area for body copy…but here it works well for layout of the search engine.

A Central Place For the Eye to Rest, and an Iconic Message
The sun flare was added using Photoshop’s render>sun flare filter. That does two things; it allows for the eye to have a central place to rest, and it adds to that subconscious, iconic sense of impending doom that we all carry within from watching those movies where the desperate, dying hero, crawling through the dry parched desert, looks up into the sun and its’ accompanying lens flare, just before being rescued.

The Photoshop sun flare filter helps add the iconic feeling of doom to this image of a businessman crawling through the desert. This stock picture is handled by Blend Images.

State of the Stock Photo Industry, Sand Dunes And an Oasis
At any rate, the photo is graphic, reads well as a thumbnail, carries an iconic metaphorical message, is flexible in its composition, and cost virtually nothing to create.
It might also be a little to close to home as it is also a great metaphor for how so many of us professionals view the current state of the stock photo industry. But just because the vultures are circling doesn’t mean we are doomed. There may yet be an oasis just over the next sand dune. I am betting there is. It is an oasis sustained by creativity, good business decisions and, perhaps, SEO.

An oasis in the desert (I shot the Gobi desert in Mongolia, the palm tree was photographed in Brazil) is an iconic image for hope and salvation. Image handled by Getty Images.