Saturday, May 8, 2010

CS5, Fear, Creativity and Success In Stock Photography

Now Everyone Can Do It....
A few nights ago I attended an Adobe presentation about Photoshop CS5. As I sat there watching them demonstrate new technologies that makes painstaking tasks into a snap I first felt a bit of despair that we are taking one more large stride towards making my hard-earned skills less unique. Each technological advance takes away the advantages that I have over newcomers and amateurs.  Each time the presenter showcased a new or improved tool the audience broke into applause, which I weakly joined, while inside I thought to my self  “Just great…now everyone can do it”. Luckily I managed to get out of that frame of mind before the evening was over.

New Technologies, A level Playing Field, and Fear
The technologies are indeed leveling the playing field of photography, particularly stock photography. They are making time-consuming and laborious tasks much faster and easier. And that really is a good thing.  I love that kind of progress when I am not caught up in fear…fear over increased competition and fear of change.  Getting into this place of fear is easy for most of us to do…and it is a deadly place. It leads us into inaction and a whole host of negative emotions. Negative emotions, among other things, are not particularly fun. I prefer to be an optimist because, if for no other reason, it is a lot more enjoyable! 

Shifted Thinking and Creativity
So rather than giving in to that fear the other night I made a conscious decision to shift my thinking.  I reminded myself that the ability to create images, that is, to do the technical work, has been decreasing in importance for years now as the technology takes over that burden. What is becoming ever more important is creativity. Creativity in everything from how we run our businesses to what ideas we come up with for our imaging projects.

The Importance of the Idea
A good sound grasp of the tools certainly is an advantage over a less disciplined approach, but isn’t the idea or concept that we are creating ultimately far more important? A great idea executed in a mediocre way is stronger than a mediocre idea executed with technical aplomb. At least I am proposing that that is the case in the world of stock photography.

Lost Momentum, Fun, and Productivity
If I get caught up in worrying about the competition I lose momentum, I have far less fun, and I am less productive. So I mentally shifted to thinking about all the cool things I can do with these new Photoshop improvements, how much easier my images will be to make. I reminded myself that the most important on-going project I have is to increase and hone my creativity.  I pictured some of the images I have on my to do list now…and how the new PS advancements will help me accomplish them.

Creatively Satisfying Images and Money
I left the presentation feeling excited and eager to dive into CS5, not because CS5 itself has been improved, but because it will help me create my images. I also left with a clear and strong mandate to work on becoming more creative and more imaginative. And I left with an understanding that more creativity and imagination will not only help my bottom line, but it will make the non-monetary rewards of my career that much more satisfying. I am not in stock photography just to make money, or to make more images like everyone else. Sure, those images will happen, and to some extent need to for cash flow reasons. However, one of the most important reasons I am a stock photographer is to be able to create images that are exciting and interesting for me . There is no doubt in my mind that if I can keep making images that are creatively satisfying for me, the money will take care of itself.

OK, off to install my new CS5 upgrade!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dealing with the New Reality For Stock Photographers

Getty Images, iStockphoto, and a Revelation
I did a search on Getty Images today while checking to see the competition that existed for an image idea I am considering creating. Then, just for the heck of it, I did the same search on iStockphoto. It was a bit of a revelation. Not only were there far more images, a couple of thousand rather than a couple of hundred, the iStockphoto images also included ones that were both higher in production value and more creative.

The Problem of Being Found in the Market Place
It makes sense too. You have a far greater supply of photographers contributing. And you have both photographers who are bent on creating images that will sell and earn income, commercially oriented photographers, and those, lets say advanced amateurs, who are more interested in creating their art and would love to see someone publish it.  As time passes more and more images will come into microstock collections that, no matter who has created them, will offer some truly wonderful alternatives to what is in the traditional collections. You just cannot get around the fact that the flood of new images is only going to continue and the problem of being found in the market place is only going to get more challenging.

How to Deal with the New Reality
The question for all of us who depend on photography for our livelihoods is how are we going to deal with that reality?  Among the photographers that I personally know some are turning to, or returning to assignment work, (which of course is also under the same pressures including increased competition from those who are hurting in stock), some are relentlessly pumping out more images (and, I suppose…adding to the problem), some are focusing on higher production value and more unique images (which I think is warranted but still eventually subject to the same pressures as the rest of the images), and some have left the business altogether. As an aside, I know at least three “traditional” stock shooters who have embraced microstock and are actually optimistic about their futures with that business model.

One Thing Every Photographer Can Do
I know I keep harping on this, but I think the one thing that every photographer can undertake to best help them be in a favorable position for whatever happens with photography, and particularly stock photography, is to create websites that are highly optimized for search engines. And now is the time to do it because it takes such an incredibly long time to get significant results (unless of course I am doing something wrong…which is entirely possible).

Being “Found” Makes You The Hero
The number of people out there searching on the Internet is mind-boggling. If you can get them to your site you can monetize that traffic. You can make money off of advertising, selling prints and merchandise, licensing images, getting assignments, offering workshops and probably a few more things I am not aware of at this moment. People who are searching want something…and if you can get them to your site you at least have a chance of supplying them with what they are looking for. You become the hero! Further, those people who end up on your site and who don’t find what they are looking for might see an ad on your site that does offer the chance of solving their problem…so they click on that ad and, in essence, pay you a fee for pointing them in that direction.

Millions of Searches and a Wide Variety of Opportunities
If you ask me, the potential rewards for creating a site that actually works in terms of attracting those millions and millions of people searching the Internet, of a site that opens a wide variety of opportunities, makes all the time, effort and investment that goes into such a site a no-brainer. But hey, more than one person has suggested that I do, indeed, have no brain. Oh well....