Friday, October 1, 2010

A Designer's Blog, Responsibility and Value

Funny lol picture of a lion scowling down at a bulldog in a stock photo about risk, intimidation and inequities.
The Lion costs $5,000.00 to rent, and the bulldog $125.00, and if no one is willing to pay for value in stock photos, images like this "intimidation" photo will not be available when they are needed.

A Designer’s Blog
I was reading a designer’s blog today. She was advocating that fellow designers stop using iStockphoto for their photography needs because iStockphoto’s prices had risen too high. She pointed out that an image that costs $12.00 to $15.00 at iStockphoto could be licensed from other agencies for $5.00 to $10.00. She went on to point out that iStock’s new commission structure was also unfair to its artists. I think she was missing something very important…and it has nothing to do with royalties paid to artists or photographers.

Photographers, Designers, Art Directors and Responsibility
As I was reading this call to boycott iStockphoto I kept thinking that her whole premise is skewed. I believe that as a professional stock photographer I have a responsibility to provide great images that solve communication problems and challenges. I owe it to my industry and fellow photographers to produce the best and most creative work I can…not the cheapest images. I would propose that a designer, or art director, or art buyer, has the responsibility to get the best value for their client…not the cheapest picture. You can license the cheapest picture…or heck, shoot it yourself, but that might not be…I would guess probably won’t be…the best image for helping the client’s communication needs get filled. Sure, price plays a role, but that role should be secondary to the client’s best interest. The client’s best interest is in having effective communications!

Limited Possibilities and Compelling Visuals
If $12.00 is too high for this designer to even consider, then she is certainly going to limit the possibilities for having visuals that are actually compelling…that can really help move a prospect towards a favorable action. Designers and art directors (and yes account people and so forth) with this mentality are depriving their clients of getting the best value, and of having advertising and design that truly works. Designers (and art directors, art buyers and so forth) that have such a mind-set are also helping to move the entire industry towards mediocrity and malaise. If photographers can't earn enough to shoot images with high production value...and potentially limited uses...then when a designer, art director or client needs such an image it won't be there.

A Photo’s Value Is More Important Than Price
I created an image for a friend of mine to help advertise his house painting business. We put a lot of effort into the image…one of my silly animal photos. Even as a friend I asked for, and got, a thousand dollars for my effort. But the image was worth it. Later, while sharing the success of the mailing with me, he also told me it was the first mailing he had ever done that no one had replied asking to be taken off his mailing list! Now I am not saying that everyone has to spend a thousand dollars or more on their images (though even $50,000.00 for the right image can be a great value), but I am suggesting that the value a client receives is more important than the price paid for an image. I am also suggesting that it is the designer or art director’s responsibility to find an image that offers the best value to a client…even if it costs a staggering…say…$16.00!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Concept Business Stock Photo: Behind the Image

A woman business executive is blown away by the performance of her computer in an office setting.
A woman is delighted by her computer experience in this business concept stock photo.
Stock Photo of Multiple Business Oriented Concepts
OK, so you want to create a dramatic stock photo with multiple business-oriented concepts centered on the positive aspects of computer use such as fast Internet, exciting content, discovery, productivity and so forth. You get the picture. That was my motivation when I set out to create a stock picture using an African American woman as my "business" model.

Business Woman Impacted By Technology
As I usually do these days I came up with a central or "hero" idea for my shoot and then built the rest of the shot list around that. In this post we will just deal with that "hero" image. The hero image on my shot list was actually intended to be a woman executive in a pensive pose pondering the future against a dramatic backdrop of a storm. As so often happens though, a different image became my favorite; a businesswoman executive impacted by technology.

A Cubicle Beckons
A business cubicle was already set up in my studio, left over from a previous stock shoot. I bought a set of used cubicle sections (or whatever you call them) that I often use for these kinds of shots…then once I set it up it is hard to get motivated to take it down. It sits there for weeks beckoning me to keep shooting office scenarios. Currently I have it set up in a storage room of my studio. It is small but I can shoot in there.

A Computer Display, Flying Hair…and What?
Getting back to this image, I knew I wanted our model to be seated in front of the computer display with her head back, her hair flying and her hands up in surprise. The only thing I really hadn't figured out yet was what was coming out of that display that was having such an impact on her. Well, I’d figure that out later….

Cloud Computing, Data Management or Fast Internet
I photographed the scene with the model and the monitor in position, then again with the monitor replaced with a large fan to get at least some movement in her hair. As I combined the two shots in Photoshop, and added the exterior windows and storm clouds, I still hadn't figured out what was going to be coming out of the display to show all the wonderful possibilities that potentially lay within. “It” could be anything from cloud computing, to web based meeting capabilities to data management to technology to just plain fast Internet…but how to show “it”?

Combining Airbrushing and Lens Flare Filter
I tried some colored light streaks combined with items such as papers, CDs and so forth, but the results weren't working out very well. I did kind of like the feeling of light, of a sort of glow coming from the display so I played with just streaks of white light coming out. It started to look pretty cool so I kept playing with the light…different densities and shapes, until I had the desired affect. The final look is actually the result of a combination of airbrush strokes with white "paint" and using a layer mask to selectively reveal a lens flare filter effect. I am really happy with the final look. There is definitely a powerful feeling of something significant inside the computer…and the model’s expression leaves no doubt that the force is a positive one.

Business Adversity and Challenge…Your Product and a Stock Photo
The image is obviously a business situation, a businesswoman discovering a new app or program or (your product or service here) and being absolutely blown away by it. The storm clouds indicate challenge and adversity that is a constant in the business world.  You can't help but want to know more about what is going on…and that makes for a good stock photo.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Motion Stock vrs. Still Photos

This high-speed (slow motion) stock video of a towel snapping a woman's buttocks has generated over 42,000 views...but no revenue.

Youtube, A Snapping Towel, and 42,000 Views
Just checked in on my videos at youtube. I don't do that very often so I was surprised to see that one of my videos has had over 42,000 views. Considering the next highest is just over 6,000, (slow motion video of a dove released into flight) that little statistic caught my attention. It figures that video clip garnering all of the hits is of a woman's buttocks being snapped by a towel. All the videos I have posted are slow motion ones shot with a Phantom HD camera at 1,000 frames per second. When the towel smacks into her derriere and is captured in super slow motion it is kind of interesting to see the woman's flesh ripple. Ouch! BTW, this idea, and the buttocks, belong to my partner Stephanie Roeser. Can you imagine your girl friend asking you to snap her in the bottom with a towel, and videotape it? Ah, the life of a photographer!

The World of Motion, Exploration and Who Knows
I have also ventured a step further into the motion world with this video of an exploding light bulb, again in slow motion, that transforms into one of those CFL "twisty" eco florescent bulbs. I envision this as a environmental message indicating that you can make a powerful difference with small steps…such as replacing your old bulbs with energy efficient bulbs…but in a dramatic fashion. The twisty bulb is actually a still shot, the same one I used for my "brain bulb" image. You can import still images right into Final Cut Pro. Hey, another way for me to spend hours and hours glued to a computer! I have no idea if there is a market for this video or not, but it did prove a useful vehicle for me to explore just a bit more deeply into the motion world, and who knows, maybe it will sell (license). I am going to submit this one to BlendImages as part of their new and growing motion offering.

Time, Effort and Pathetic Returns
My video offerings at Getty (I have just under 200 clips) have been bringing in a very approximate $750.00 a month. While that might at first glance seem pretty good, if you look at the time, effort and money invested, it is actually kind of pathetic. At that rate I will have the expenses covered in only the next five years. On top of that, I am sharing the revenue with several others who were involved in the projects with me. So if any of the videos are still earning money five years from now I may start getting $250.00 a month in profit, but by then I can't imagine the revenue will still be that high. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the slow-motion project (most of the online clips) and learned a lot. But you can see why I might not be diving head-first into the motion game! If something changes and the revenue stream really takes off I will report that here. Doubtless there are those out there with a much better experience than my own, but for me the still stock image remains the more viable option at this time.

Stock Motion, Challenges, and Microstock Competition
There is little doubt in my mind that video can be a real plus for assignment photographers to have as part of their offering. But when I look at stock video, or perhaps I should say motion stock, I see some real challenges. Video is much more difficult to capture well, more time consuming to deal with in editing, almost impossible to "save" in post (we once shot a beautiful video of a woman jogging up a hill and passing in front of the setting sun, back at the studio we realized that just as she passed in front of the sun a camera bag was visible in the frame, oh well) and is already being flooded with microstock competition. I personally think that most videos will be short, custom produced ones with a minimal reliance on existing footage. I will continue to "visit" that world from time-to-time just in case that market turns out to be far more robust than I envision, but for the vast majority of my own efforts I will stick to still images.