Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Jim Doherty, Blend Senior Art Director, Interviewed

Photo of Jim Doherty ©Jasmine Hartsook

Jim Doherty Interview:

You are Senior Art Director at Blend Images. Can you fill us in on how you got into the stock photo business and the journey that led you to Blend?

Before I got in to the business of making and licensing still images – I had been involved in the licensing of stock music to radio and the licensing of motion pictures to ancillary markets (airlines and cable TV). I started my career in stock photography at The Stock Market Photo Agency as an account executive. After a few years in sales I moved over to their photo research department. Working in research got me very interested in the creation of the images as opposed to the selling of the images. That led me to a job in the editing department of The Image Bank. I was working at The Image Bank when they were acquired by Getty Images. I worked for Getty Images as a photo editor for many years and enjoyed it very much. I left Getty in 2008 for Blend Images.

You went from a large Stock Agency to a much different kind of Agency in Blend. How is working at Blend different from your previous experiences in the stock imagery world?

Working for Getty Images was a great experience and a great place to work.  I left Getty when their editing portal came in to play and most photographers did not work directly with their editor.  I wanted to continue the photographer interaction and collaboration that I enjoyed at Getty. Blend offered me that opportunity.

Working here at Blend feels more like working for a family run business, than a large corporation. It is the same feeling I got while working at Richard Steedman’s Stock Market Photo Agency.  Blend is a very tight knit group that tries to put a human touch on the experience our photographers have in an industry that has become very automated and impersonal.  We still have photographer meetings every year…I don’t know many places that still put that time, expense and effort in to their shooters.

What are your responsibilities at Blend?

It is my job to maintain a creative and productive relationship with Blend’s photographer community. I am the main curator of the images that Blend puts out in to the marketplace. I brainstorm with photographers and help them come up with ideas that I feel will sell.

What do you like best about your work?

I love it when I see a picture that I worked on with a photographer in an advertisement. It is like owning a racehorse that wins the Kentucky Derby or seeing a child grow up to be something amazing. I never get over that feeling – it is something special.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a stock agency art director?

I think one of my biggest challenges is the same challenge that stock  photographer’s face….coming up with a smart, eye-catching way to illustrate an advertising concept. Thinking of new ways to interpret ideas, hire models and get the most out of a shoot day.

As stock shooters we are often advised to "fill the holes" in agency collections. Are there still holes, and if so, how the heck do we find out where the "holes" are?

By the amount of pharmaceutical and health care ads I see, I would target concepts that are useful to that industry: vitality, trust, freedom, active living, a healthy lifestyle and growing old gracefully. I would look for locations that can read as an exam room, waiting room or consultation office. 

I believe that there is no shortage of good looking happy people in their teens and twenties in stock photography. I do feel there is a shortage of good looking happy people in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Clients are always asking for situations reflecting the lifestyle of hip baby boomers.

There is a ton of advice for how photographers can succeed in stock photography; specialize, shoot for niches, fill the holes in agency collections and so on. What advice do you have for photographers who are trying to succeed as stock shooters?

Know yourself and your competition. Are you a still life shooter? Are you a lifestyle shooter? Are you a business shooter?  Are you a studio shooter? Are you a location shooter?  Research the stock agencies and see what is already out there in the visual marketplace that is conceptually and visually similar. Ask yourself if you can produce images as good or better as what is currently out there and shoot it once or twice a month.

What is the most common mistake you see photographers make when shooting for stock?

The most common technical mistake I see, is great images not being in focus in the right place. When that happens, I think it is a case of the photographer striking the set or telling the models to go home, before they take a look at the job on a laptop or a proper computer screen. People get caught up in the moment and forget to take a minute and check the basics. I am guilty of this too. 

Another common mistake I see is photographers not being aware of what is for sale in micro stock before they go and spend a lot of money on a shoot. Before you spend a couple thousand dollars on a shoot - take a look and see what is out there. Ask yourself if you can improve upon what is already for sale at a lower price point? 

Also, don't forget to have your models sign the release before the shoot. Trust me on this. 

Where do you get the inspiration for ideas from?

I get a lot of ideas people watching. To me, there is no better way to get ideas on style, body language and trends than to sit at the mall and people watch. Authenticity is king at your local mall! You can observe the body language of people using their hand held devices, what people are wearing and how they are wearing it.  Are you doing a shoot involving teens? - hang out by the food court. Are you having trouble picking wardrobe? - hang out by the banana republic. Are you doing a baby boomer fitness shoot? - go early and check out the mall walkers. Are you doing a mother / child shoot?- hang out by baby gap. 

I have heard that there is a resurgence happening in Rights Managed Stock, and on the other hand I have heard that RM is dying. What is your perspective on that?

I believe that clients will always want to know where an image has been previously used.  At a fundamental level that is the key difference between RF and RM – knowing where the image has been and the ability to manage where and who uses the image going forward. Our team at Blend manages exclusivity requests every day. So, in my opinion RM is not dying.

 What makes a great stock photo?

I feel that a good stock photo is not too specific, but it says a few things well – this leaves the client enough wiggle room to work the image in to their project.

A very accomplished stock photographer and friend of mine, Sam Diephuis, is one of the tightest editors of his own work I have encountered & yet he ends up with with a very high percentage of selects. Sam says the tighter you edit the more you get in. Is that just Sam, or is that generally true across the board?

I would agree with Sam.

If I were a photographer sending my images to my editor, I would do a little bit more editing than just taking out the blinks and blurs. I would offer the editor four or five variations on each set up or concept. 

That said, I have had so many photographers tell me, “My best seller is an image that I almost didn’t send to my editor”.  If you are having a hard time editing a situation or shoot down – go little wider, or talk to your editor.

Are there any other things to keep in mind for photographers editing their own work?

Other than what I mentioned above – Trust yourself.

As the photographer, you know what you were going for in the shoot. Pick your favorites and give your editor some options. Sometimes if you overwhelm your editor with 30-40 variations the best one might get lost in the shuffle.

 What do you think the impact of tablet computers such as the iPad will have on the stock photo industry?

I believe that the tablets will bring a need for more pictures, because there will be more advertisements and richer editorial stories. Publishers and advertisers will have to change visuals to keep readers interested and to look fresh.
The future of stock photography: pessimistic or optimistic?

Cautiously Optimistic. While new media will bring new photo usages to the marketplace – advances in camera technology will bring new shooters to the game. So, to me – it is the same as always: keep your budget down, know your competition and improve upon your best sellers.

Do you have a current favorite stock photo and the story behind it that you can share with:

Blend has been very busy the past few months with a ton of new content and photographers, so I have many favorites.  I particularly like one of your new images that deals with social networking (BLM 006227).  Advertising reflects what is going on in the news – and we all know social networking and virtual interaction is the big story.  I remember asking you if you had any ideas on how to illustrate the concept of facebook and we threw around a few ideas together over the phone. When I saw this photo I felt that you nailed the idea. This picture also holds the distinction of having the most model releases I have ever had to deal with. There is a lot of value and inspiration in that picture. 

This "Social Media" stock photo required over 100 model releases!

What should photographers do who would like to participate in Blend Images?

Email me!
Jim @ blendimages.com


Rick Campbell said...

Thank you for this interesting article. Do you use smth like online data room services to save and share your photos or information? Any cloud service? Thanks for your reply.

John Lund said...