Thursday, April 1, 2010

Iconic Symbols and the Power To Communicate In Stock Photography

Iconic Symbols and the Power to Communicate
There are images that have become so identified with certain concepts that they not only ubiquitous but have become clich├ęs as well. These “iconic” symbols are ubiquitous and often banal, but even then retain the power to communicate effectively. Such images include the light bulb to demonstrate “ideas”, a life preserver for “rescue”, and a lighthouse for “guidance”. Another such symbol is the piggy bank. We see it everywhere, and we instantly know that the topic is finance of one sort or another.

Images That Serve Your Client
While we can look at such overused images as a liability, if they are portrayed in a new and interesting way they can be extremely powerful in getting a message across. What they have going for them is  instant recognition; what goes against them is the boredom factor. Get rid of that “boredom”, show that symbol in an eye-catching and interest-provoking manner, and you have an image that serves your clients well, and in turn can bring in substantial revenue for you. A another example of a piggy bank image that does that refers to "Stretching Your Savings".

Volatile Financial Markets and Bucking Broncos
In this case I wanted to create a stock photo that could be used to point out the volatility, the ups and downs, and the risks of finance markets, whether they are in savings, capital investment, the equity markets or any other financial instruments. I chose to use a man in business attire to expand the concept beyond that of personal finance and to include corporate entities as well. The cowboy on a bucking bronco is a concept that all Americans, indeed that the whole world is familiar with, and has an inherent drama to it. Success in that rodeo sport is possible, but is hardly a given. I think it is a perfect merger of two familiar and iconic symbols.

Successful Stock Photos and a Piggy Bank
Some of the things that make for successful stock photos are motion, or a sense of it, a positive spin, a clear message with a quick read, and effectiveness at thumbnail sizes. To impart that sense of motion we have dramatic body positioning for both the piggy bank and the executive riding it. Another detail that works to help add to the sense of movement is having the businessman’s tie flying out. We also made sure to have our model smiling to add that positive aspect to the photo. By having the image on white we make it easy for those licensing it to incorporate it into a wide variety of uses…and to expand the image to accommodate headlines and body copy. Generally images sell better when they are in an environment, but in this case my intuition was to use that more generic white background.

From Newsletters to Ads To Editorial Illustrations
This is the kind of image that can be used by a huge portion of the business and finance communities for everything from newsletter embellishment to bank adds to editorial illustrations. With that in mind I put the images into Blend Images Royalty Free collection to get maximum distribution and to avoid eliminating those potential users who avoid using Rights Managed images for real or perceived reasons of expense.

Interesting, Compelling and Iconic Images
Time will tell if the image turns out to be successful or not, but the principle works. If you can take one of those iconic symbols and show it in an interesting and compelling manner, then I bet that you will have, at the very least, one of those bread and butter images that are so important to having a thriving stock photo business.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Secret Lives of Elephants: A Photo Odyssey

The Secret And Remarkable Lives of Elephants
We all know that Elephants are remarkable creatures, but until very recently we didn’t know how remarkable. It was on a two-year expedition to previously unexplored regions of both Africa and South East Asia that I was able to gain the trust of these ponderous pachyderms to the point where they let me photograph them in there normally secret activities and feats that have never before been witnessed by humans. Elephants, as it turns out, have amazing skills in music, dance, in athletic performances and even in the metaphysical.

Burmese Jungles and Elephant Ballads

At one point, having hacked our way through the deep jungles of Burma for weeks, sharing meals and stories with Tribal people including the neck-ring wearing Padueng, some of whom had never seen westerners before, and seeing nothing but malaria mosquitoes, leeches and venomous snakes, we were rewarded with a truly inspiring sight. We actually heard it before we saw it. An eerie but incredibly beautiful melody, a haunting harmony punctuated by rap-like bellows and an deep rumbling base that came up through the ground and reverberated into our chests. And then, as we parted the vines and tropical leaves, there before us, four of the huge beasts, trunks upraised, stood together and harmonized in their elephant ballad that spoke of eons of history, of heartache and accomplishment, of lost brothers and sisters, and of hopes for the future.

Bangkok, Disco Dancing and an Elephant in a Bar

But our elephant adventure was not confined to the Burmese rain forests. In the back alleys of Bangkok, where tourists are never seen and darkness hides the comings and goings of those who frequent unlikely venues, we were ushered into a cavernous unmarked warehouse whose plain and pedestrian exterior belied the extraordinary scene within. A huge, pulsing room filled with a flashing staccato strobe and streaming colored lights washing over a crowd swaying to the music and surrounding a towering bull elephant standing upright and disco dancing with surprising agility. When the music stopped the hulking animal lumbered over to the bar (you may have heard about the elephant who walked into a bar…) and enlisted three stools as he settled himself in at the bar for a little libation.

Angkor Wat, a Buddhist Monk, and a High Wire Act
But the athletic ability of elephants isn’t, as it turns out, limited to dancing. In yet another jungle clearing, this one not far from Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat, an ancient, leathery Buddhist monk led us to a sight I will never forget.  Among the fallen stones of a long forgotten temple, the elephants had set up a school, a school of performing arts, and we were lucky enough to witness one young adolescent practicing his high wire act with the help of a balance beam.  As we watched another youngster drifted by in the background clinging to a balloon with his trunk. In the corner of my eye I caught one elephant practicing his chameleon act changing from grey to pink in just an instant.  As awesome an experience as it was we couldn’t linger. We had to press on with our journey of investigation into the secret world of elephants.

Flying Elephants, Elephants Hiding in Trees, and Elephants in the Room

In the course of our mission we saw flying elephants, we saw elephants hiding in trees, and even elephants practicing yoga. But perhaps the most amazing ability of all that we witnessed in the elephant repertoire, is a metaphysical ability, the ability to slip virtually undetected into any room in which a conversation is taking place, and to remain undetected as long as the conversation continues. I myself witnessed, and photographed, such feats more than once (once in a hospital recovery room, and again in an office).

The End of Our Odyssey, and One Last Treat

Eventually we had to end our odyssey. Our funds had run out and it was time to get back to work. But the elephants had one last treat for me. As we headed to the airport on our back home, I took one last glance out the back of the cab and caught a glimpse of a lone elephant emerging from a side road and then disappearing into the distance…on a unicycle.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Social Media, An Art Buyer, and Google Image Search

A teen age girl uses her cell phone texting to her social network which is symbolized by a sphere of portraits (sphere of influence) of her friends and family that hovers next to her.
Social media and networking is illustrated in this stock photo by showing the teen-aged girl's network of friends and family in a sphere of portraits.

Social Media and Google Image Search

Upon arriving in my studio this morning there was a message on my voice mail from an art buyer for a large corporation who was inquiring about an image of mine created to illustrate the concepts of social media and social networking. She had found the image doing a Google Image search. Keep in mind this art buyer is very familiar with both Corbis and Getty. Interestingly enough, the social media image in question is with both Getty and Corbis (it is actually a Blend Images photo distributed through many agencies including the “Big Two”), but she found it first on my site! The image, by the way, is one of several I have recently completed to try and service the growing need for photos that deal with social media and such.

Providing Excellent Service Through SEO
My conversation with this art buyer reinforced a few things for me. It offered proof that even experienced art buyers turn to Google to find images…at least occasionally; that helping such prospective clients find your images is a legitimate and important extension of client servicing; and that my program of SEO and online presence is succeeding.

Art Buyers Turn To Google…and License Images
PhotoShelter, in their survey of art directors, art buyers, and designers, clearly indicated that such industry pros do use Google Image search from time to time. Since most of my images are with agencies, and when someone wants to license those images they are automatically taken to the agencies site. I seldom find out if my images are licensed after being found on the Internet. I do know that at this point around twenty people a day are sent to sites of the various agencies from my own site…I just don’t know if they complete the licensing process once they get there. So it is encouraging when I find out, as I did today, that a licensing process is completed.

Good SEO and Online Presence Is An Important Service To Clients
When I called this art buyer back she was effusive in thanking me for making it easy to find the image she was looking for. She volunteered that she would be keeping me in mind for similar imagery as well. She was grateful that I had put the time and effort into SEO, into making her job easier by making my images easier for her to find. Got to love that!

SEO and Online Databases of Images Do Result in Higher Sales
As demonstrated in this case, art buyers (and art directors, designers, animal lovers and other photography enthusiasts and people in need of images) are finding my pictues in those Internet searches, licensing them and purchasing prints and products from me. There is no question that it is working…the questions are how much such activity will increase as my traffic increases, and how quickly will that traffic increase? Originally I figured a year to get to a significant sales volume, but now I am thinking two years…and that is with several hours spent on my site and SEO almost every day! In my experience SEO is a long and laborious process…but one that works and one that someday I will be very glad I undertook!