Thursday, March 25, 2010

In Praise of Stock Agency Blend Images

Party Time in a photo of young people
Well, I guess it won't be exactly like this stock photo I shot in a Buenos Aires night club, but I am looking forward to seeing friends and getting a creative boost at the Blend Images Spring Creative Meeting.
A Day of Creative Presentations
In the interest of fairness I have to disclose that I am a part owner of Blend Images, a stock photo agency that I am about to praise. Tomorrow I am flying to Palm Springs to participate in a day of creative presentations (Saturday) by Blend Images for its photographers. Besides iStock, are there still any agencies that put on events for their contributors?  I really look forward to these events. Stock photography can be a isolating career, so it is great to meet face-to-face with my peers, trade shop talk (O.K. little gossip too), strategies and what is going on in our lives. Trust me, this is better than Facebook!

A Creative Event, Creative Direction, And Rising Sales
In addition to putting on a once-a-year creative event, Blend Images also gives each shooter a ton of creative direction, access to an art director, an online forum, daily info on their sales, and a whole lot more.  Blend is small enough to be nimble and responsive to both clients and photographers alike. Working with Blend feels like how it should be. And maybe the best part of all, my sales are going up (of course, I don’t know if that is true for everyone)!

Big Sales Still Do Happen

Blend Images truly is a stock photo agency run by photographers (even our CEO, Rick Becker-Leckrone, is a shooter) for photographers.  It was founded by twenty-four stock shooters and now has a roster of over a hundred contributing members. It prides itself on transparency and accessibility. Oh yeah, and don't forget those sales! As I mentioned, you can log on to the contributor site and check your daily sales. When I logged on this morning, to my pleasant surprise, one of my associate photographers had a Rights Managed sale for over $3,000.00 (Blend handles Rights Managed, Royalty Free, and a new collection, Boost, which is a mid-level offering between RF and Micro). That is $3,000.00 to the photographer! Yes, big sales do still happen!

Blend Images, Getty, Corbis and SuperStock

While I still contribute to Getty, Corbis, and now SuperStock (of which Blend Itself a part owner) as well, I consider Blend Images to be a cornerstone to my business. They are a vital part of my program to diversify (Blend has over 200 sub-agents world-wide including Getty, Corbis and so forth). Blend now represents half of my income and, considering they just started five years ago, and I have been shooting stock for twenty years. That's pretty impressive!

An Ethnically Diverse, Tight Edited Collection
Blend is, in a sense, a niche agency. It specializes in ethnically diverse business and lifestyle imagery. It has a tightly edited collection so as not to waste the time of those looking for that kind of content, and lets face it, everyone wants that kind of content! In fact, a blend is what our world is becoming (a shout out to Shalom Ormsby, one of our founders, for coming up with a great name). OK, maybe I am getting a bit carried away here, but suffice it to say that I am really looking forward to the next couple of days, of meeting some shooters I have only corresponded with over the Internet, of getting some great and relevant creative direction, and of inundating myself with my fellow stock photographers! What fun!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Many Ways To Succeed in Stock Photography

Apples to Apples and Many Ways To Succeed
I have the privilege of seeing the sales reports from a dozen stock photographers. One thing that stands out to me from looking at all those reports is that there are many ways to succeed. Each of those photographers has there own style and approach. That point is accentuated to me by the fact that a core group of about six of us often have combined our efforts in group shoots…which means there are plenty of images shot by different photographers but using the same models in the same locations. It is, in a sense, a rare opportunity to compare apples to apples.

A Studied Approach and a High RPI
One of these photographers has a very studied approach. He spends the most time casting and location scouting of any of our group. He spends more time lighting and setting up a given shot, gets fewer images per shoot, but makes a higher per-mage return (RPI) than the other photographers.

A Constant Flow of Ideas and Tight Editing
Yet another shooter has the incredible (to me anyway) ability to spring into action instantly. I recall a shoot in which he and I teamed up on a location shoot on the ridges of Marin County’s hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We drove up, parked, and began to pile out of our two vehicles. I gathered up my camera equipment and shot list, turned around, and watched in amazement as he followed a model up a trail, camera held down at near ground level as he snapped away. He just stepped out of the car and started shooting. He consistently out-shoots all the other photographers I know in terms of quantity. He is in a constant flow of ideas shooting hero shots, details, still lifes…getting it all. Interestingly enough, not only does he end up with the most images, but he also edits extremely tightly. He credits his tight editing for his high number of accepts from a given shoot. In the shoot he and I did overlooking the Pacific he had something like 80 accepts and I felt pretty good with thirty something!

Styling, Propping, Decisiveness and Consistent Sales
One of the women in our group puts a heavy emphasis on styling and propping. She tends to get fewer images out of a given shoot but her images consistently sell well. Her style can be almost campy at times, but I have learned that there is definitely an audience for it. She also shoots a lot of children and many of those images are among our top selling photos. One thing I have really learned to appreciate about her is her decisiveness and trust in her own instincts.

Everything Sells
Then there is me. I tend towards the concept images and often feel a little out-of-place shooting lifestyle. Don’t get me wrong; I always end up enjoying the shoots…no matter what I am shooting. I love getting to know the models and I love the sense of camaraderie I end up feeling with both the models and the crew. I do, however, usually get the fewest selects of any of our group, but make up the difference with my strong concept imagery. I am working hard at expanding my vision and not getting so fixated on just the concept end of things. One thing I have definitely learned from seeing the sales reports of so many photographers is that everything sells. While the concept shots tend to have the highest RPI’s, the lifestyle shoots earn the most per shoot, which seems to me to be a rather important consideration.

Play to Your Strengths…and Shoot A Lot
I haven’t covered all of our shooters here, but you get the idea. Each shooter has his or her strengths and when they play to their strengths they do well. One other important point, and I don’t think it just pertains to our little group, but it does appear that the photographers who shoot the most, earn the most. Not the most exposures per shoot, but the most consistent effort at planning, shooting and following through with submitting and uploading the images. What a surprising discovery!