Saturday, February 6, 2010

Guest Blog: A Recently Rounded Perspective on Microstock by Scott Redinger-Libolt

Photographer/art director Scott Redinger-Libolt gets a new perspective on microstock and shares it with us in this guest blog.

A recently rounded perspective on microstock
by Scott Redinger-Libolt

As many of you know, a large part of my income as a photographer is from stock. Other sources include assignment, creative consulting, editing, and retouching. I do not participate in microstock…however, I just had my first experience purchasing it for a client. I must say, I felt very guilty and wanted to share some realizations I had during the experience (hands still clutching the bloody knife).

One of my editing clients is the Green Labor Journal who is a non-profit organization. With a small team of writers and researchers, the journal provides information on a monthly basis including the complex politics of energy, green jobs, green education, union news, and affiliate articles. Their efforts are quite noble and like most righteous organizations, their funds are severely limited.

Needless to say, I bought a photograph from microstock, and it took this first hand experience to awaken me to the broad spectrum of effects caused by this one simple act. The picture was of solar panels being installed by workers on the roof of a commercial building. OK, let’s stop there for a moment. As a photographer, I know what it takes to make a connection with a solar company, secure a model release, and get access to shoot on the roof of a commercial building in this litigious and liability stricken nation. These hurdles alone make for an extremely valuable subject matter in stock due to the scarcity of coverage. This particular image, a very nice shot I might add, has further value due to the attention and growth in the “Green” and “Solar” industries…a perfect combination of supply and demand.

Like many stock photographers, I’ve been asked by most agencies to shoot green energy and had lightly started some research last year. The time and travel involved with producing this content has factored into my inadequate coverage of the subject. Having seen and bought another photographer’s end result for less than $5 has given me reason for pause. Based on the downloads of this particular image, and from what I know about average purchase price, file size, etc…I calculate that this one image will make the photographer about $600-800 in the first year. Not bad on a single image, but you can’t calculate RPI on a single image without knowing how many images were shot that day and how many of them don’t sell as well or at all…and, of course, the tapering lifespan is a factor. Given my experience in RM & RF, I believe this particular image could be making nearly double this amount per year in either of these licensing models. But I don’t want to dwell on this too much because my enlightenment was of a bigger picture …pun not intended.

When I joined Green Labor Journal as a freelance photo editor, I had also hoped that one day I would be shooting editorial pictures of the green workforce and attribute my skills to a noble cause. But as I clicked “Buy” on this microstock image and made this well-deserving client aware of this outlet for extremely cheap content, I saw my personal assignment hopes evaporate before my eyes. Oh… and all while my skills as a photo editor were being commended. By now my head is twisting in ways it had not before been twisted and…I had to write this entry for the pursuit of John’s blogging efforts in trying to make sense of it all.

Wait… there is a moral to the story. Non-profit organizations would not be able to function if it were not for inexpensive content outlets. We are seeing a resurgence in countless aspects of activism in our nation right now, and it is our duty as caring individuals to participate in noble movements. Both, government-subsidized as well as publicly funded not-for-profit organizations, have increased by drastic numbers in the last few years…and remarkably so, in the face of adverse economic situations. The budgets of these organizations have played a big part in the evolution (or de-evolution) of discounting content. I don’t feel good about microstock undermining my stock revenue as well as my assignment possibilities…however, to quote Spock, “It is illogical to dwell in circumstances beyond your control”. We can even see an opportunity here in creating mid-level priced and microstock content that specifically targets the needs of non-profit organizations who wouldn’t be buying RM or RF anyway. Bang…that was the car door slamming as I race with my camera to the closest field of genetically-altered wheat.

To inquire about Scott’s creative consulting and photography, drop him a line on his website:

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cultivating Curiosity To Improve Your Photography

Curiosity about other cultures and ways of life are a strong motivating force in great travel photography. I photographed this woman of the Padaung tribe in a remote Burmese village. They were as curious about me as I was about them; they had never seen westerners before! Note the brass coils around her neck!

Curiosity Makes For Better Photography
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it can greatly enhance your photography! Curiosity is a cornerstone for becoming a “people person”, essential for successful people and lifestyle photography. Curiosity, about other cultures and lifestyles, is a primary motivating force for great travel photographers. And curiosity about the world we live in can open up this world for photographic exploration and documentation and lead to all kind of opportunities and even adventures.

People Will Open Up And Share
Most people have the same favorite thing to talk about…themselves! If you either have a natural curiosity about people, or can develop that curiosity, then you have the key to creating great rapport with people. Just ask them about their lives, what motivates them, what interests them, where there passions are. That can lead to far more rewarding and productive experiences, photographic and otherwise, for all parties concerned. If you can generate genuine curiosity and explore that with people they will open up and reveal all kinds of fascinating and useful information, access, and adventures. In one case, when I had been in India for only a couple of hours, I asked a taxi driver, a Sikh, about his religious beliefs. One thing led to another and soon I found myself photographing inside the incredible Sikh temple in Delhi.

Curiosity Leads To Great Experiences
But curiosity is important at home too. Recently I was shooting a model and began to ask her about her family. Before long she was sharing pictures of her parents and siblings, all great looking people, and offering to recruit them for another shoot. Seldom, if ever, has my curiosity led me to anything other than great experiences, and it has invariably left the subjects of my curiosity feeling flattered and better about themselves.

Curiosity Is A Powerful Tool For Stock Photographers
Curiosity is an especially powerful tool for the stock photographer. We are always in need of ideas, subjects, locations and vocations. How often have we allowed ourselves to sit next to someone on a bus or plane in silence never knowing what great information or wonderful opportunities have been missed? I once spent an entire flight sitting next to man, from New York to San Francisco. We finally started talking as we exited the aircraft. It turned out he was an author and I had just finished his book days earlier…and by not being curious…and not pursuing that curiosity, I missed a chance to delve more deeply into what I thought was a fabulous book…from its author no less! Just by being interested in other people, and expressing that interest, I have gained access to race cars, yachts, ultra-light flying, and the most amazing meal of my life. I have been invited to weddings and funerals and family celebrations. I was once invited to fly in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, and another time invited to photograph a mock operation on a cadaver…though I have to admit that I passed that opportunity up.

Curiosity Can Be Cultivated
The key to making curiosity work for you is to have your curiosity be sincere. Like many other things, if you practice you get better. I have to continually remind myself that I am not the center of the universe; that I already know all about me, and that other people are a treasure trove of interesting things, if I can just bring it out of them. Despite all my wonderful experiences from expressing my interest in the lives of others, I still have to work to get myself to express that interest. I have to cultivate both my curiosity and my willingness to pursue it. I seem to have an unreasonable expectation that I will be imposing on people, and yet I do not remember a single unpleasant event from investigating that interest. I am sure there were many dead-ends, but so what? What is far more important is what is to be gained by a simple and friendly greeting, followed by a sincere interest in another person. Cultivate your curiosity and practice sharing it. You won’t regret it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Opening The Doors To Photography Opportunities

Is the glass half empty or half full? The photography industry is under siege, but there are opportunities out there!

One Door Closes, Another Opens
How often have we heard that when one door closes another one opens? I think that we all believe that too, to a certain extent. But when we are talking about our own livelihood it is a bit more difficult to get behind! And yet, taking that maxim to heart is an important step to a great future.  A close friend of mine, and former assistant, was, until a couple of weeks ago, the manager of business that is doing quite well. He walked in one day; the owner called him in and fired him. Surprise. You don't have a job anymore!

True Story: A Better Job and New Opportunity

I called him today to check in and see how he is doing. Great it turns out. He had just returned from a ten-day trip to Europe, paid for by an acquaintance of his who now wants him to run his North American operations.  This is a true story, and as I said, is happening to a good friend of mine. My friend ended up with a new and better job in the same industry, with more opportunity, and all within two weeks of being unexpectedly fired.  If he hadn't been let go, that opportunity would have passed him by.

Too Early Is Better Than Too Late

Now look at our own industry. Under siege by image glut, low prices, crowd sourcing and image theft.  Perhaps we can open the doors to new opportunities by letting go of our belief that the photo industry shouldn't be undergoing these changes. We can start opening doors even before the old doors slam totally shut.  The time to do that is now. Opportunities take time to find and develop. I don’t want to wake up one day and realize that I have been passed by…I’d rather be too early than too late. Also, If there is one overriding thing I have learned in my last year of working on my website and SEO (search engine optimization), it is that the opportunity I see in Internet searches takes time to develop, and a lot of it!  I can see progress, I can see that my efforts are starting to pay off, but I also see that I am probably at least another year away from the kind of Internet success that I am after.

Understand Where the New Opportunities Are
Instead of jumping on a forum and bemoaning all those photographers who are ruining the photography and stock photo industries, take that time to understand where the new opportunities are, and get working on them!  I don't know about you, but it wasn't easy for me to reach success under the old paradigm, and I don't expect it to be easy under the new one either.  I know it is going to take work, but I know there are opportunities here.

Google Searches and Print Sales
Do you know how many searches there were for "wall d├ęcor" in the last year? Google reports the number at over 21 million!  Are you getting your share of print sales? Wordtracker reports searches of "Hawaii stock photos" at 52,000 last year. Invest a little time looking at keyword searches to see where some opportunities are for you, with your areas of expertise and what you like to shoot. Then get to work on your site and make sure that people, who are looking for what you have to offer, find you!

Tracking Searches and Increasing Revenue
I use SmarterStats to track the searches that bring people to my site.  A year ago I was getting a few people a week. Now I get hundreds a day. Someone came to my sight today searching "lighthouse storm photos", and someone, hopefully the same person, went from my site to a lighthouse-in-a-storm photo that I have on the Corbis site. I won't know for three months or so whether there was a license of that lighthouse image, but the point is, that because I have made my images available for those seeking such images, I have a far greater chance of earning revenue from those photographs.

Using Creativity to Find Opportunities

Of course, the Internet is not the only source of opportunities. I have a photographer friend looking into 3D video, and another photographer friend who is using his photography knowledge to devise a turnkey system for doctors to photograph their patients. Use your creativity to find opportunities that appeal to you. My point is lets not wait for the door to slam before opening the door to those other opportunities! Opportunities are seldom easy, and seldom come to you.  Now is the time to go out and find them and to put the time and effort in to making them payoff.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Stock Photo of Chaos, and Decisions

The result of experimenting with no goal in mind, this stock photo can represent many concepts from Chaos to communications to the Internet.

Is It A Good Stock Photo?
My last blog post was about the importance of “play” in photography. The above photograph was the result of my latest playtime. Is it a good stock Photo? Will it sell well? I don’t know. I am not even sure if I am going to submit it in its current form. I do love the sense of chaos, the sense of motion and the dynamic colors. For me it can represent many different themes from the firing neurons of a brain, to interstellar intelligence, to networking, to Internet communications (it even has a kind of net-like structure to it) and much more.

City Lights At Night And Photoshop

The image is the result of two separate “play” sessions. The first one involved shooting city lights at night, and the second session was using Photoshop to combine and enhance some of those city lights.  Now I will let the image “gestate” for a bit before deciding whether to combine it with yet another image, alter in some yet-to-be-determined fashion, or submitting it as it is…or what the heck, maybe both!

Decisions: Rights Managed or Royalty Free?
Before submitting the image I will have a decision to make. Let’s assume for a moment that I decide to send it in the way it is. So would it be better as an RM image, or as an RF image? On the RM side it doesn’t appear to be the kind of image that would sell a large number of times, nor does it seem like an image with a lot of competition. One thing that might push it in the RF direction is that it could work as a background kind of image. In my experience “background” images seem to do better as RF images.

Rights Managed, Royalty Free and Misconceptions

Another point to consider: A lot of potential licensees of stock images are under the misconception that they cannot afford Rights Managed images. Or they believe that rights managed images are necessarily cumbersome to license. Yet, I am seeing a plethora of sales under $5.00 (even had one sale last month with Getty that netted me four cents!). I spoke recently with a doctor who had licensed one of my RM images through Getty, for use in a Power Point presentation, and who told me that it was as easy to license as the photograph as it is to buy just about anything online.  Nonetheless, there are a lot of people who do limit themselves to RF and Micro imagery. If I submit the image as an RM one I do run the risk of limiting the market for it.

Similars and Sisters
The final point I have to take into consideration is whether or not I have, or plan to create, images that are similars and/or sisters. If I am going to have one or two such images I can still go with Rights Managed, but more than that will push me into the RF category. Ultimately I am prejudiced towards Rights Managed because of my long history with it.  But I do believe it would be a mistake to not continue to contribute to Royalty Free as well.Some of my Royalty Free photos make every bit as much money as my Rights Managed images.  I might add, that when one of my editors/art directors makes a case for an image to be one or the other I almost always defer to their suggestions.

A Light At the End of the Tunnel

As I write this it occurs to me that the above image is also a good representation of my own thought processes as I try to find my way in this turbulent world of stock photography. In the end, you try and make as much sense of the chaos as you can and hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel (and that the light isn’t the headlight of an oncoming locomotive!).