Saturday, November 20, 2010

Empty Rooms and Opportunities In Stock Photography

Doctors and surgeons holding power tools and wrenches as they stand in an operating room in a hospital in a medical stock photo.
A painfully humorous stock photo of surgeons with power tools in an OR came about from my having photographed and empty operating room.
Opportunity And An Empty Operating Room
It was my own little experience with the operating room that inspired me to make a series of images on the medical industry (a visit to the emergency room ended up in abdominal surgery and a five day stay in the hospital.  I had to have a follow-up operation and I sought permission to video and photograph the procedure…(well , permission for my friend Shalom Ormsby to record it), for stock photography. Amazingly enough, permission was granted. That shoot led to a medical shoot of my own after my recovery. As part of that second shoot I photographed an empty operating room figuring that eventually I would have a use for it. Over the years I have wasted tremendous opportunities by not thinking with a wide enough net. I should have photographed every room, office and space that I have used in shoots as separate shots, from multiple angles and altitudes, as both legitimate stock shots in their own right and as resources for my composite imagery.

Doctors in the Operating Room

Several months after shooting in the operating room I was putting together a shot list for a shoot centered around some business ideas. After coming up with a primary image I was looking through my archive of resource pictures trying to come up with additional image concepts when I saw the photo of the empty operating room. Of course, the first idea that came to mind was a “traditional” portrait of a doctor or surgeon in the OR.  That has been done to death of course, but even another one would probably sell. BTW, it did sell the first month it was up online…twice actually…but I digress. I really wanted to come up with something different, some that hadn’t been done before, or at least done to death.

Power Tools In The Operating Room

I remembered seeing a “House” episode on TV in during which the esteemed television doctor performs an amputation on a patient trapped under the rubble of a collapsed building. It looked as if he used a “sawsall “or reciprocating saw. That was my answer. I chose to use three different people, posing as surgeons, each a holding a different tool. We ended up using a reciprocating saw, an electric drill and a pipe wrench. I simply photographed each of the models in surgical gowns or scrubs or what ever that clothing is called, in my studio, then stripped them into the operating theater photo. The final image could work for concepts from auto repair to medical insurance to, well,  a whole bunch of things!

Medical Images and an Empty Recovery Room

I ended up with the medical photos and, with the business images included, I was able to get about fifteen different shots from the models in a few hours of work. That may not seem like a lot to shooters who manage to pump out photos in a way Henry Ford would have been proud of, but for me that represents a pretty good investment. The key to this series of medical images (I ended up with one portrait of each model in the hospital OR and the image of all three of them together holding the tools), was to have the presence of mind to shoot the room from various angles while it was empty…something it has taken me years to learn to do! As I mentioned above, the first month these images were up I had three sales (two of the “traditional portraits and one of the doctors holding tools), so I think they will do well. Now, I still have some shots of the empty recovery room….

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Case Against A Stock Photo Niche

Business on the go, speed, and connections are the concepts illustrated by this stock photo.
Business-on-the-go is a popular stock photo concept and comes with an over supply of imagery. Financial success will come to the photographer who can best create images that satisfy that concept and compete successfully with the other images.

Creating Images That Compete
One piece of common advice for photographers is to specialize, to find a niche’ and focus on it. Particularly in these days of image over supply you hear how important it is to shoot images that aren’t competing with the plethora of popular subjects…a favorite example being that of a person on a cell phone. I personally feel that such advice should be taken with a grain or two of salt. I believe it is important to create images that, rather than not competing, are competing successfully. If you want to have a successful (read “earn lots of money”) career in stock photography you need to shoot the popular subjects…and you need to diversify…both of which fly in the face of advice pointing one towards a “specialty”.

The Case For Specialization In Photography
Ever since I started my pro career back in the mid-seventies I have heard that I needed to specialize. I certainly believe that specialization does make it easier to get assignment work…and indeed, back when I shot assignments I did specialize. I specialized in location work; I specialized in agricultural photography, I specialized in special effects photography, I specialized in Photoshop work and on occasion I specialized in a lot of things I don’t even remember! But I do remember that I always resented the fact that I had to specialize…and one of the great “aha!” moments I had was when I realized that in shooting stock I didn’t have to narrow myself to any one subject or style.  Indeed, that was one of the main reasons I gave up assignment work for stock.

A Photo Niche and Less Revenue
While developing a niche for your stock photography may be right for you if you market your own work and can get an appropriately high licensing fee then more power to you. It will be rare to find an agency that will demand a higher price for such imagery so if you distribute through the typical agency you will simply end up with fewer sales and less revenue.

The Secret to Success
I believe the secret to success is to create images that do cater to the popular categories and subject matter…but to create images that clients will want more than the other guy’s picture. Not an easy task…but I am not promising a rose garden here. To achieve success in stock you are going to have to create truly compelling images of popular categories and subject matter and distribute them effectively. That means choosing the right model for the image (RM, RF or Micro), being prolific for the type of imagery you are doing (for me being prolific is a few hundred images a year) and choosing agencies that people actually go to and license from.

Testing The Waters
I also believe in diversifying. Having a primary style, for example, is fine, and in some cases is so strong it is hard to argue with (think Colin Anderson). But for most of us mere mortals it is important to try new things to both test the waters for finding out if there is a strong demand for new styles, and to insure that if demand changes for the style (or subject) that is our bread and butter, we won’t be left high and dry. Besides, trying new styles (or subjects) out can help keep us fresh and creative.

Business On The Go
In my recent trip to Thailand to shoot source material for my stock images I played a lot with zooming during my exposures as well as shooting long exposures of lights at night. The past two days I have given myself “permission” to play with those images the result being a series that are unlike other images I see on stock sites. While the style is an experiment, the concepts of speed, transportation, shipping and business on the go are popular ones and always in demand. Will these images sell? My gut tells me they will…but it also tells me they won’t sell a lot…so I will place these images in the Rights Managed category.  By the way, my gut is not always right…but I will find out if this is a viable style by having these images out there in circulation.

Images I Want To Create
I want to create images that compete effectively for popular categories and subjects, I want to stay fresh and creative, and I want to continually test the waters for what images the market place wants. For me, and my career in stock photography, shooting for a niche is not the way to go.