Saturday, August 20, 2011

"Interesting" Trumps "Real" In Advertising And Editorial Concept Photography

This photo of a body builder, photographed in a studio and composited into a sky image, represents strength and power.
I photographed this body builder against a black background in my studio, then used Photoshop to strip it into the sky image. Even though the lighting isn't "realsitic", the image works for a concept photo about strength and power.

“Real” Photos And An Epiphany
When I first started taking pictures I was a strong believer in “real”. That is, I didn’t believe in filters or other “tricks” to enhance photos (this was in the early 1970s waaay before digital). I doggedly held onto that belief for many years. My epiphany came one day when I was thumbing through a magazine and a picture of a runner jogging along a trail caught my eye.

The Image Is The Most Important Thing
The runner was obviously lit by strobe light even though she was on a trail outdoors. My first reaction was my typical one, derision that the photographer had resorted to such an artificial technique. But as I continue to leaf through the magazine the image stuck in my head. I realized that the image was more interesting, more “alive”, than any of the other shots in the publication. That was my “aha” moment. Journalism aside (now there is a whole other can of worms), I realized that the image was the most important thing, not how it was made and not whether it conformed to reality. In commercial photography the image is there to grab your attention, and it is pointless to argue about how the image was made and whether or not it is “real enough” if it does its job and grabs your attention.

Reality Is Less Important Than Interesting
So here I am decades later, and every image I touch gets clobbered in Photoshop. When compositing images digitally, which is pretty much all I do now, I will also add that reality is less important than “interesting” with one caveat. That caveat is that the image must work. Sometimes that means adhering with all the little details, lighting, shadows, perspective and so forth, that make an image look real. Other times though, the image is far more effective if the lighting is more dramatic than reality, or the perspective is different than what one would encounter in an un-manipulated photo.

Enhanced Reality For Advertising And Editorial Concepts
A common technique I employ is to add rim lighting on subjects stripped into a new background in scenes that rim lighting would not exist in. Done well, the images work better than with “real” lighting. The key here is to make the changes subtle enough that the illusion of reality is not interrupted.  You end up with “enhanced reality” that for advertising and even editorial concepts works better than plain old “real”.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Its A Jungle Out There!

In this picture a businessman stands befuddled in a jungle full of wild and dangerous animals representing the concepts of risk, danger and adversity.
You can see the world as a dangerous jungle full of risk, or as an adventure to be lived to the fullest.

It’s A Jungle Out There
As any photographer knows, particularly stock photographers, it’s a jungle out there! The world of professional photography is filled with peril. There are evil stock agencies wanting to gorge on you. Other photographers are stalking your clients. Internet vultures hungrily eye your images. And yet yesterday, as I was creating my own “jungle” image replete with dangerous wild animals, I realized how happy I am.

Image Demand, Technology Advances, And The Internet
Despite all the challenges and adversity that we photographers have to confront on almost a daily basis, we still have it pretty nice. Images are in demand like never before. Technology is on a relentless march to make things easier and easier for us. The Internet lets us send our products nearly instantly anywhere in the world at the touch of a button, and if you need to know something…just ask Google (or one of the countless forums out there). And we are free to choose the agencies that work for us and/or pursue other avenues of photo-generated revenue.  Photography is a giant playground and we get paid to play in it!

Playing By The Rules
Of course, if we want continued access to that playground we do have to play by the rules. What are the rules? One, be creative. What could be more playful than being creative? And to keep your playground privileges you have to create images that aren’t like the ones already there. Two, have fun. If your not having fun you will never be able to keep up the pace necessary to earn a living, a decent living anyway, in photography. Finally, you have to produce. If you don’t finish your images and get them in front of potential licensors, some other playground bully is going to take your place.

Dedication, Work, Disappointments And A Wonderful Life
Okay, realistically it isn’t all fun and games. It does take an enormous amount of dedication and work to succeed in this business. You have to put up with constant disappointments. But if you can make it work, what a wonderful life it can be! I remind myself every day to be grateful and to enjoy my process. Recently I started reminding myself to even enjoy the failures, the times when my images don’t work and get rejected, when models don’t show and when sales reports come in low. It may be a jungle out there, but it is full of life and adventure and shouldn’t be missed!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Unique Imagery: The Challenge of Stock Photography

Success in photography requires getting out of the trap of creating images that look like all the other images.

Unique Imagery: The Challenge of Stock Photography
One of the challenges of stock photography is in creating unique imagery. Over the long haul, if you fail to strike out into new territory in the creation of your stock photos your career will suffer. Failing to create unique imagery will lead to the cannibalization of your own images and is a likely road to burn out.

Shooting What You Want When You Want
I have had more than one friend who has produced stock like crazy for a few years and then given up on stock altogether after getting sick to death of shooting the same thing over and over again.  For me, one of the biggest reasons for being a stock shooter is that I can shoot what I want when I want. The opportunity of shooting a wide range of images, and the freedom of letting serendipity take me where it will, are both vital factors in my ongoing success as a stock photographer.

Growing Collections And Dropping RPIs
Producing the same kind of images over and over will lead to lower income. It is a proven fact that as collections grow the RPI of that collection drops. It only makes sense; similar images will be competing for the same dollar. In addition, with a drop in RPI, the collection as a whole will inevitably fall in the search results of most collections even further eroding your revenue.

Intangibles, Little Details And Second Rate Images
It can be very tempting to recreate those best sellers, whether they are your own or someone else’s. That will probably just result in more of those similar images. Looking at best sellers can tell you what kind of images are needed, but copying them practically guarantees that you are producing second rate images. The intangibles, the little details, that make an image into a best seller, are seldom present in the second go around. At least, in my own experience, I have a dismal rate of success of creating new versions of my own best sellers. I am much better off setting out into new uncharted waters for image ideas.

A Strategy For Making Stock Photos
Part of my strategy for making stock photos revolves around creating images that fill a clear need and are different from what else is already out there. Sure, I create my share of executive portraits, business meetings and so forth, but the real thrust of my work is trying to come up with unique, compelling images that stand out from the crowd of work already out there. I may not always succeed, but the journey is interesting and I have been lucky enough to find some rewards as well.

Unique Images, High Goals And The Health Of The Stock Photo Industry
It is a lot of work to come up with unique images. Such photos can be the result of incredible locations, inspiring models or visionary scenarios, all of which require more than the ordinary amount of effort. But in setting your goals high and striving to fulfill those goals, you can avoid burn out, increase your income and contribute to the health of the stock photo industry as well.