Monday, August 1, 2011

An Email From An Art Director And Stock Photo Needs


Picture of a stressed-out businessman feeling overwhelmed in a cluttered and messy office cubicle.
This stressed-out businessman, clutching his head in his hands, is probably overwhelmed by searching for stock photos!

An Email From An Art Director
I received the following email,from an Art Director/Designer that I worked with frequently back in my assignment days. It cracked me up, but I think it is important to pay attention to a couple things the email brings up. That email is posted below with her permission (I have omitted the photograph for copyright reasons).

Hi John,

I know you don't do microstock but someone has to give us cheapskates another middle-aged white manager type, besides this guy, attached.

He is everywhere. I used him 4 years ago and soon after I found him on a Sprint bill stuffer. I have seen him on bill boards, in ads, everywhere.

Type business man into Istockphoto.com and there he is. Many poses, alone, in groups. He now sports a pink flame on the search results page, meaning more than 10,000 downloads!!

Some one is making money here.

If you don't want to do this maybe some one you know will.

We really need another middle-aged white guy!

Never thought I would be saying that . . .

Hope all is well.

Best, Gabrielle

Gabrielle Disario
GDisario49@gmail.com

Inexpensive Stock Photography, A Sign Of The Times
Gabrielle Disario is a talented designer and art director I used to shoot for back in my assignment days. We worked on some pretty decent sized jobs, so I think it is interesting that she needs microstock images. It is a sign of the times. It seems like everyone needs inexpensive stock photography, though I know from my own sales reports that there is also, believe it or not, still a demand for traditional stock, both RM and RF.

Opportunities In Stock photography
It is also interesting that Gabrielle isn’t finding what she wants. There is still opportunity in stock photography. I think that is actually the main take away from Gabrielle’s email, that there are still images that need to be made, and need to be made for all the various price points. Of course, when I did as she suggested and went to iStockphoto searching under “Business” and “Man”, there were over 122,000 results! I tried to look at those results to determine for myself if there was still a need for more variety.  I didn’t get very far. Page four to be precise (though after a break I skipped around pretty thoroughly). There certainly appeared to be plenty of good quality images, but after page three the sheer sameness of everything got to me. The individual images seem done well enough, but as a group I found it depressing! With 122,000 results it seems hard to believe that Gabrielle can’t find what she needs. Maybe it is just too hard to find what she needs?

A Getty Search And A Stark Difference
I did the same search on Getty and there is indeed a stark difference in the results. There was far more variety in the imagery. A couple of top microstock shooters have told me that images have to be shot a certain way to succeed in micro…and that started to become clear to me with these searches. It seems to me that what makes for a great selling microstock image also leads to a lack of variety…though Gabrielle’s complaint was a lack of variety for a specific model type.  I am guessing that with everyone knowing what sells, and most photographers producing that type of image, the variety suffers. In the case of the model that Gabrielle has seen too much of, he was shot by one of the most successful and prolific iStockphoto.com shooters, and with the "most downloaded" option for searching chosen, you are going to see that guy way more often than that of someone shot by a less prolific and successful shooter.

A Signpost Towards Ongoing Success
So what do I come away with from all this? As hard as it is to believe, there are still images needed. At the Blend Creative meeting in Palm Springs last fall we had an art buyer speak who bemoaned the lack of fresh and relevant imagery available in stock, so Gabrielle is not the only one. I actually think for at least some of us, for me anyway, that need is a signpost towards ongoing success. We have to create that variety, come up with more creative, innovative images that walk that fine line between creativity and usability.

Know Your Strengths, Know Your Motivations
It is also important to have a good grasp on your owns strengths. Are you better suited to producing images in quantity, shooting innovate lifestyle imagery, or concept images with intensive post production?  You have to know what you are good at, what kinds of images motivate you and keep the process exciting, and you have to know how to get those images most effectively distributed.  If you can do that then there is still room for success in stock photography.

15 comments:

Richard Wong said...

I take that as a good thing that she wasn't able to find what she wanted at microstock prices. Buyers will either have to settle for not what they really want or learn to build photography into their budget if they value their product then that's where people who work for fair wages step in.

gdisario said...

While there may be 122,000 photos with the keywords "business man", there must be something about this guy that he gets used so much. Maybe his sheer ordinariness and his kindly face. It may also have to do with iStock's default search results order, "Most Relevant". Pretty much interchangeable with "Most Downloaded". So once a photo is discovered it gets further up the search results and seen more, downloaded more and on and on.

As for getting more money for photography, many freelancers, who I believe are big users of microstock, work for small companies for which $500 is the entire budget. Given the choice between no visual, a so so $39 visual or a $400 photo you bet I am going with a $39 image. Design has become commoditized as much as photography. But a
girl can always dream...

Jonathan Ross said...

Great read as always John,

The other side of the coin is the swinging pendulum. At some point people will want something unique that is not for sale at $15 dollars just so it won't be used by every competitor.
In comes the old stand by RM that I believe will see a rebirth of sorts because buyers are getting tired of seeing the same photos over and over.
There will come a time when a photo does not help an add but can actually hurt the buyer from the over use.
We still see the largest sales in Stock are Rights Managed as much money as Micro is making they still have not surpassed the total sales of Macro RM and I do believe that we will start to see the pendulum swing back more to when the image a buyer chose was a very important part of that companies message.
Just my two cents, ear to the tracks I hope I don't get run over : )

Thank you John,
Jonathan Ross

John Lund said...

Richard,

Yes an no. I guess you have to decide which market you want to have your images aimed at...those with little or no budgets, and those who have more to spend....

Thanks,

John

John Lund said...

Gabrielle,

Good points...there are a huge number of people who need images who just can't sped much money on them...and it is up to us photographers to decide whether to make images for them or not.Thanks for sharing those thoughts and your email!

Thanks,

John

John Lund said...

Jonathan,

I hope your right! In the meantime I am creating images for both RF and RM...hedging my bets so to speak.

Thanks!

John

donfarrall said...

Cheapskates don't deserve more variety. You get what you pay for. Overused imagery just comes with the territory of micro. In fact, if an image isn't used a lot (at micro prices) it won't pay for it'f production cost, which it the case for 99.9% of the images in the micro arena. Buyers of course don't care, but it's unrealistic to expect photographers to produce images that are so unique that they will only sell to a select few buyers, and to then get those images for cheapskate prices. The odds of getting an image that hasn't been over used goes up greatly when moving from microstock up to traditional RF stock, and even more when moving up to RM. You get what you pay for.

Sean Locke said...

A search for "senior man" and "businessman" turns up several thousand images that aren't that guy. Maybe she just needs to search better.

gdisario said...

You guys are missing the point. It was not my search that was the problem as that guy was pretty much the only game in town in 2008.

Since then the microstock selection has gotten so much better. What I was reacting to is that he has been downloaded over 10 thousand times! I agree that there are now many senior manager shots but why is this guy so ubiquitous? And can someone shoot a different guy that has the same intrinsic and apparently attractive characteristics that this guy has? I used him once and would never use him again. But I will continue to have need for that type of model.

And, you RM shooters can sneer at those of us that need inexpensive imagery but realize that the availability of good microstock is making it possible for people to use real photos where before they might have used the hokey clip-art that shipped with MS Word or Powerpoint. This trend can't help but drive the need for more creative and unique photos so that clients (with money or who care) can stand out in the crowd. The market that microstock is moving in on is that great swath of middle of the road images, not high end RM or custom photography.

Sean Locke said...

A combination of download history, views, artist history, etc. will tend to push it to the top of the sort, where in-a-hurry-buyers will tend to grab the first thing they see.

John Lund said...

Gabrielle,

Good points...but I do believe microstock has eaten deeply into both RF and RM. Hopefully it won't swallow everything!

Do you ever have the client and budgets for RM or RF Photos?

Thanks!

John

Anonymous said...

Just amazed that professional photographers, assignment and stock, are paying any attention to the needs of microstock-using designers.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Gabrielle is now freelancing like the rest of us. Found her on Linkedin. Welcome to the group. She is I imagine working on a bid basis where the cheaper the expenses the more she makes. We call this Bidness. I only hope more designers are disgusted to find their image selections everywhere. Maybe someday assignments will come back.

Rohn Engh said...

If an account executive had an ample budget for his campaign, he would no doubt hire a top-notch writer to produce the copy, right? Why, then, would he not hire a top-notch photographer to produce his image?

John Lund said...

Ron,

I will play the Devil's advocate here...it depends on the Account executive's perceived value of photography....

John

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