Thursday, June 9, 2011

Crocodiles and Concept Stock Photography

A businessman puts his head in a crocodile's mouth in a funny stock photo about risk, danger, daring and more.
Compelling images that deliver concise messages in an entertaining way tend to do very well as stock images.

Crocodiles And Concept Stock Photos
Asking for a raise from your boss can be a harrowing experience! At least that is one interpretation of this concept stock photo of a businessman putting his head into a crocodile’s mouth. While this particular photograph was a product of Photoshop, when I photographed the crocodile at a “Crocodile Farm” in Thailand, a performer actually did have his head in the croc’s mouth!  Throughout the performance the numerous crocodiles involved would unexpectedly snap their mouths shut with an audible clap. I am sure the performers have some kind of cue about when that would happen, but I sure couldn’t figure it out!

Labor Relations, Corporate Communications and Crocodiles
I have high hopes for this crocodile image. It portrays a wide variety of concepts, should be able to cross cultural and language barriers, has humor and drama, and can be cropped square, horizontal or as a vertical. Examples of concepts that the image can illustrate include everything from labor relations to corporate communications to executive training. Other broad concepts include risk, danger, adversity and management issues. Actually, it is hard to predict how some creative art director or editor will find a way to utilize this stock shot.

Images That Entertain…And Make Money
As advertising increasingly becomes another form of entertainment I believe it is important to create images that can fulfill that role. If you can make someone smile or chuckle when they see your image you probably have a moneymaker. Now if you didn’t smile when you saw this image…don’t tell me!

Berkeley, Bangkok, Buenos Aires and…Sausalito
As for the creation of this reptilian image, in a sense it truly was a “global business image”. The crocodile was photographed in Thailand; the office window was shot in Buenos Aires, the floor in Berkeley, California, and the man in my Sausalito studio. The final image consisted of twenty-seven layers, three crocodile pictures, the glass window, the wooden floor, and two shots of the model. The Photoshop work took me approximately two days (working at a somewhat leisurely pace).

Making Travel Pay With Stock Photography
It is through creating these concept images that I end up making travel photography pay off. When I travel I am always keeping my eyes out for “parts” that I can then incorporate into my stock photography work. The crocodile images came about when I was attempting to get tiger images. They were a target of opportunity rather than something I planned out. At this point I now have three crocodile stock images with more on the way.

Rights Managed, Royalty Free and Fluctuating Income
Now comes the hardest part. Royalty Free or Rights Managed, bigger market or higher price points?  In my experience the image seems to be more important than the pricing model. I have RF images that earn as much as RM images. The RM images tend to be far more volatile. My RM income fluctuates way more than my RF income.  In this case I am leaning towards the RM model because a photograph of a man putting his head into a crocodile’s mouth probably isn’t all that easy for an art director to use. The easier it is to use an image the more likely I am to submit an image as a royalty free one.

Time, Resources and Enjoyment
It may take me several years before I find out if my time and resources in this image were a good investment.  In the meantime, at least I enjoyed the process from shooting the crocodiles to crafting the image in Photoshop.  That in it self is a good sign because the vast majority of the time when I enjoy putting an image together it does well in the market place.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Roller Coaster Ride of The Business of Photography

Picture of business people riding a plunging roller coaster car in a humorous metaphor for the ups and downs, adversity, and challenges of the business world.
The photography business is one of constant ups and downs, highs and lows, that must be dealt with for long term success.

The Photography Business Is A Roller Coaster Ride
The photography business, whether stock, assignment, editorial or weddings, is a roller coaster ride. It is a continuous series of ups and downs, highs and lows, praise and rejection, adversity and successes. In the long term, to do well in the business of photography one has to recognize that reality and find ways to deal with it.

Low Royalty Reports, Refunded Sales and Negative Forum Comments
The highs and lows of the photo business are myriad. For me, as a stock shooter, a high comes in the form of a great royalty report, a particularly large RM sale, the completion of a creative and well-crafted image or perhaps in winning an award. The lows are rejected submissions, low royalty reports (or the dreaded refund of a previous sale…usually for a large amount), and perhaps from spending too much time reading negative comments on photography forums and photo blogs. When I regularly shot assignments there were the lows of losing bids, difficult clients and the challenges of getting paid.

Psychological Preparation and Having A Plan
Over the years I have learned to deal with these lows in two basic ways: Being psychologically prepared, and having a plan in place to turn to. A third way of dealing with the lows is one I totally believe in, but, until recently,  have never had the discipline to achieve: Investing in alternative income sources (think income property, the stock market, etc.). I do know several photographers who have provided for themselves in that manner…and are they ever glad they did!

Rejections, Income Fluctuations And Maintaining Productivity
You can prepare yourself psychologically by truly accepting that all of the downsides of being a professional photographer are inevitable. There will be rejections, income fluctuations and frustrations. Assignments will go awry, clients will be unreasonable, hard drives will fail. Right now, for me, those lower than expected royalty reports are the most challenging. When I see my royalty reports have come in, I steel myself. If it is indeed a low one I am already prepared and ready to remind myself that I already am moving on plans I have in place to grow my stock photo income. I recognize that a low royalty report has a strong tendency to lower the productivity of most photographers in producing additional stock photos. I try and take that emotional hit and turn it into more energy and determination to be more productive…to take that disappointment, and perhaps even fear, and use it as a motivating force to make more and better images, and to take that little extra step in adding content to my web site.

A Detailed Plan That Is Working
I find such an exercise much easier to accomplish because I already have a detailed plan (a plan that is a work-in-progress with continual fine-tuning) in place (I learned how to create my own business plans and goals via Brian Tracy). It also helps that I can see that the plan is working. Despite royalty reports that fluctuate, my stock photo income is holding and even showing a bit of growth over last year. My web traffic is climbing steadily if not dramatically, and that is resulting in a slow increase in income from everything from imprinted merchandise to my Google Adwords income to print sales. I am licensing more stock directly as well.

Funding Retirement, Income Property and Living To A Hundred
I am actually funding my retirement plans (as if I will ever retire!) too. I have put more into my retirement fund in the last three years than I did in the previous twenty years. I am doing this even though I sense that it is “too late”. At my advanced age it seams unlikely that the type of growth seen by investing in traditional financial investments will ever amount to much while I am still around…but I am doing it anyway. I am also thinking seriously about investing in come income property as well. Who knows, I may surprise myself and live another forty years! I do know that having money is more fun than not…and if I live to a hundred I’d rather do it with!

Smart Investing In Stock Photography
BTW, I still believe that smart investing in photo shoots offers a far better return than investing in traditional investments like stocks and bonds. At least that is my experience even in these difficult times. The key word here is “smart”. I know I can’t just go out and shoot willy nilly anymore and expect great returns. But when I plan my shoots well, determine there is a need for what I am shooting, and shoot in an efficient way, my experience is that I will be well-rewarded for those efforts.

Enjoying The Ride
What is the point of all these ruminations? I’d sum it up this way: Have a plan; understand there will be ups and downs, learn to use the “downs” as emotional energy to further your career and diversify into non-photography streams of income. If you recognize that the photography business is a roller coaster ride, and prepare for it, then it will be a lot easier to enjoy that ride!