Saturday, December 22, 2012

Getty, Image Search and Participation

A businessman holds out a globe of imagery and data in an photograph depicting database management, Internet search, and future communications technology. 
 For stock photographers image search is critical, and participation in communicating with our agencies is a vital part of every stock shooter's business.

Image Migration And Falling Stock Photo Income
For a while now Getty has been migrating a massive number of iStockphoto images onto their site. It isn’t unusual to do a search and get page after page of nothing but E+ images. I find this rather disconcerting, and it possibly explains the fact that virtually every Getty stock shooter I know has seen dramatic drops in their income during the last two months.

Forums, Complaints, And Strong Emotions
Over in the site the forums have been abuzz with complaints from the micro guys and gals that are unhappy with…well…pretty much everything. It’s interesting that while we traditional shooters are unhappy with the low prices of the micro images being uploaded to the Getty site, not to mention the number of them, the microstock shooters are unhappy with high priced images being migrated to their site. They are not afraid to express their STRONG emotions about everything from site functions to royalty rates. Heck, administrators have even been pleading with the members to pull it back a bit:

What Keeps Me Up At Night
I believe it is inevitable that all the major stock photo sites will have a complete range of stock products available from subscription to Rights Managed. I am hopeful that I can create imagery that is good enough that it can successfully compete with all the other images out there. What really keeps me up at night is the idea that my images won’t get seen. And right now, on the Getty site, it sure seems headed in that direction. I hope it is some kind of ingestion glitch, but glitch or not, I can’t believe it isn’t having a deleterious effect on my sales at least at this time.

The Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease
Getting back to all those E+ images going up on the Getty site. That huge influx of imagery onto the Getty site is probably happening at least in part because the iStockphoto shooters are not shy about expressing their opinions.  On the other side, we Traditional shooters are a tame bunch. The squeaking wheel gets the grease…and us silent types are getting left out of the search. Time to speak up. By the way, I have been with Getty since the beginning, and have never known them to penalize any one for expressing their opinions no matter how adversarial in nature.

A Fare Shake In Image Search
Frankly, we traditional shooters do have value. Our imagery doesn’t look the same as the mass-produced imagery that is the current hallmark of the really successful micro shooters.  The stock industry needs those of us who contribute images that don’t look like micro, but they need to be reminded of that. If Getty owes us anything it is a fare shake in image search…something we aren’t getting at the moment.

Participation Is Critical
I have been as guilty as anyone in staying too quiet, but participation is becoming rather critical. Whether you are with Getty, Corbis, Masterfile or any other stock agency it is important to stay informed and involved. Don’t worry about whether your voice can make a difference; just make your voice heard. In fact, making your voice heard is doing the agencies, and all of us in the stock industry, a favor.  The more honest input the powers that be have access to, the better decisions they can make.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Fear and Motivation In Photography

The concept of business gloom and doom, and potential failure, is illustrated by this photo of a woman working in her office while vultures sit above her on the cubicle walls.
Fear can be healthy if you harness the energy for motivation rather than letting it freeze you into inaction.

Tech Developments and Fear
I just watched an interview with Marc Andreesson in which he said (my paraphrasing) that all CEOs are scared…scared of the possibility that the next tech development will render their companies obsolete. Hmmm, sound familiar? I don’t think it is a bad time to be scared right now either. I use that fear as a motivator to keep my productivity high and to keep asking what it is that I am not seeing…and where my particular skill sets can work to my advantage. The skill sets I refer to are in the field of photography, and stock photography in particular. And as any photographer ought to know by now, there is plenty to be scared of!

Fear, Paralysis and Complacency
Fear is a fine line to walk. Too much fear can paralyze you into inaction and have you hiding your head in the sand. Not enough fear might lead to complacency and the slow death of your business.  I use fear to keep setting my goals to a sufficiently high level. What is a sufficiently high level? One in which significant progress is made by attempting to reach the goal, but also in a goal that is perhaps just a bit beyond one’s reach. If you are always achieving your goals then you are probably setting them too low. Sheryl Sandberg (again my paraphrasing) pointed out, in the same interview, that many companies reach goal after goal until they are no longer in business.

Blend Images and Impossible Goals
Way back in time, about eight years ago, I was invited to help found Blend Images. In addition to putting up our initial round of funding, we were also required to commit to upload 1500 images…I think it was over a period of five or six months. Whatever it was, at the time I had produced something like 200 stock photos in about a decade. 1500 images in that short a period just boggled my mind. I almost didn’t participate in the Blend effort for that reason…it seemed like far too ambitious a goal for me. Thanks largely to Trinette Reed and Shalom Ormsby I went for it. The rest, as they say, is history. I managed to come up with the necessary imagery…largely be enlisting the help of some additional shooters.

Re-examining Goals
Earlier this year I set the goal of creating an average of 4 concept stock images per week.  That too seemed like an impossible goal, and yet to my amazement, I am reaching that goal.  It isn’t easy, but I am doing it. If I had set the goal lower I don’t think I would be producing as much imagery either. Should I reset my goal higher? Not ready to do that yet but I will certainly be re-examining all of my goals at the end of the year.

Fear, Motivation and Productivity
Getting back to that fear for a moment, fear produces energy. Put that energy to good use by using it to motivate you to try new things, to keep learning as much as you can about our industry and where it is headed, and to keep producing more and better imagery.   

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Case For Watermarks

An endless sea of bunny rabbits are a perfect metaphor for reproduction and distribution in the digital age.
In an age of digital reproduction and distribution watermarking your images only makes sense!

Watermarks, Copyright and Monetary Value
Imagine if all photographers had highly visible watermarks on every image that they have online.  The message that photographs are copyrighted would become universal. The concept that images have a monetary value would be advanced immeasurably. Further, if those watermarks also showed a viewer where that image could be licensed, there is no doubt that at least some amount of additional revenue would be in the hands of content creators (photographers).

Watermarks And Legitimate Licensing
I understand the argument against watermarks, that they interrupt the beauty of an image and may result in less “sharing” of an image.  But if you are seeking to earn revenue through photography, putting a watermark on your image is a no brainer!  If someone who actually has a budget to license an image, and is on the Internet looking for images, a watermark isn’t going to prevent them from using one of my images if it suits their needs.  Rather, it makes it far easier for them to legitimately license the image and far less likely that they will merely steal it.  In fact, I have heard from some art directors that they won’t use an image if they cannot easily find the creator or copyright holder of an image…it is just too big a risk.

Watermarks and Credit
With a watermark on your photo anyone who sees that image will know who created it. It won’t simply be another anonymous creation that does me absolutely no good for people to share and see. If you are afraid of ruining the beauty of your imagery make the watermarks on the smaller, less obtrusive side. As for me, I want my watermarks to be big enough to get the copyright message across quickly, to make it less optimal for Photoshop knowledgeable people to remove the watermark, and to get credit where credit is due. Sure, watermarks can be removed and people are going to infringe…but with watermarked imagery those infringers will be far fewer.

Dollars And Cents
Actually, even if you are just sharing images you are proud of, and are not attempting to earn money with them, you still should be putting watermarks on them. If you are proud of your images then take credit for them! Fine artists working in mediums from oil pants to watercolors don’t hesitate to sign their work! Do yourself and all photographers a favor and put an easy-to-read watermark on your photos and preferably with your website address included. It just makes sense (and it makes dollars and cents as well).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Passion And Attitude In Photography

A woman meditates peacefully in the middle of a busy crosswalk full of business people rushing to and fro.
With all the change around us, having a good attitude is essential for success in photography; Having passion can make for a good attitude.

Attitude Is Everything: Passion Vital
A photography career is not for the feint of heart. Everywhere one turns there is the constant bombardment of change, and change is threatening. Change offers the promise of possibility but comes in the form of a maze that can lead us on countless dead ends wasting our time, resources and initiative. But then, staying with what we know, refusing to venture from our comfort zone, can be a recipe for disaster as well.  To keep putting energy into such a chaotic and often disheartening industry requires a good, no make that great, attitude.

Pushing Into New Directions
Because I have a passion to succeed I am constantly working on my attitude, and keeping a positive attitude facilitates me in pushing myself into new directions.  I have ventured into motion, put a ton of effort into my website (and, of course, done a lot of blogging), tried my hand at lifestyle photography, and am now experimenting with mobile device camera photography (using my iPhone 4S for Blend’s Memento collection). I keep thinking it would be a great idea to harness 3D to combine with my photography as well, but I just can’t motivate myself to undertake that big a learning process…yet.

The Potential For Burn Out
In this new stock photography environment, to succeed financially, you have to produce…and you have to produce a LOT!  Now exactly what a “lot” is depends on a lot of variables including what kind of work you do and what kind of distribution you have. The problem with producing a lot is the potential for burn out. How do you produce enough without turning a creative endeavor such as photography, into drudgery? You have to have passion and a great attitude.

Stock Photography And Passion
I had a conversation today with a fellow photographer who used to shoot a lot of stock, but has pretty much dropped out of it for the past few years. I was encouraging him to get back into it…but he says he just can’t face the ideas of shooting stock anymore because it bores him to death. He has lost his passion for the game.  To succeed in stock you need passion. It doesn’t necessarily need to be passion for photography. It can be passion for success, passion for earning money (yes, there are still some photographers making really great money in stock photography) or a passion for some other motivating force. In my own case I love making my images, I really enjoy having money, I like my photography community, and there isn’t anything else I want to do…which all adds up to it’s own kind of passion.

Attitude or Passion
That brings me back to my iPhone photography. In a recent blog post “Why I Hate Instagram” I shared my reluctance to use my iPhone to shoot stock photos, but I also know that a better attitude, an attitude more likely to help my career, would be to embrace the iPhone as a camera. My passion to succeed has helped me adjust my attitude. While I am finding that creating good images with my iPhone is a bigger challenge than I thought it would be, I am actually starting to enjoy it.  Forcing myself to have a better attitude always pays off in one way or another…though rarely it seems in the way I expect it to.

A "Commercial" Camera Phone Stock Collection
BTW, for those who want to try earning revenue via mobile phones stock photography you might want to check out Blend Image’s Memento collection. They (I guess I should say “we” since I am a part owner) are putting together a collection of “phone photography” that will stand apart in its strong commercial applicability. If you are interested just check it out at the Memento landing page.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Tom Penpark Interview

 This image of the Milky Way is one of Tom Penpark's "Verizontal" panorama images shot on one of his many "road trips" across America. Image ©TomPenpark.

Tom Penpark is one of those inspirational photographers who can do it all; from fine art to commercial assignments, from fashion to portraiture, and from architecture to landscapes. I first met Tom when he came to interview with me for an intern position. One look at his book and I didn’t need to see anyone else!

Since that time Tom has impressed me with both his creativity and his work ethic.   I understand at least part of his success. He works as hard at his art and craft as anyone I know. The results speak for themselves.  I fully expect Tom to end up rich and famous.

Tom, I know you started your career in Thailand and that you worked there as an art director. How has your experience as an art director influenced your photography?

Being an art director gave me a chance to see images in a wider aspect. Other than the image itself, I need to work with the conceptual idea, work with the layout template, and take into consideration the ideas of different people involved in a given project.  As a photographer now, I am very flexible in the how I shoot with different people and concepts.

What was the biggest challenge for you in coming to the U.S.?

The big obstacle for me is still my language skill. It is not that difficult to use English in everyday life, but it is a big challenge when I try to explain shoot ideas to a client or in presenting an artist statement. But I can get over it by practicing and rehearsal. I am thankful to everyone who has patiently listened to my broken English.

You shoot everything from fashion to landscape to food. What do you enjoy shooting the most?

I enjoy shooting a plethora of images just like I enjoy eating different kinds of food. I always try to find a way to make my subject look interesting. Cliché shooting is more fun when I can add conceptual ideas to it.

But one thing I never get tired of is shooting landscapes. I enjoy shooting American landscapes since I first started to have road trips in 2008. I came from Thailand where it is very beautiful, but it is not as gigantic as the American landscape.  Driving on a road trip through the National Parks gives me a chance to see the most beautiful and unique places on earth like Yellowstone or Bonneville Salt Flats. The most difficult thing is that while I can capture the image in front of me I can never capture the soul of the location I’ve been to.   

 In an industry that is constantly changing and filled with adversity, what is the biggest challenge for you?

The biggest challenge for me is always how to present my work to the client.
I have mixed factors that I always worry about like language barriers, my body of work, and pitching the price. But I find the challenge can be positive as well. Most of the time I over-prepare before meeting the client.

How do you choose your locations for those amazing panoramas you do?

I choose the location after I plan the road trip. I always use Google Maps to see the locations and the directions. After I map out all the locations I want to visit, I will do a little research on where should I take a picture and at what time. Knowing sunset and sunrise times, including the lunar calendar, helps a lot too.

Can you take us through one of your favorite panoramas…the story behind it and what went into it?

Most of my panoramas shoots have been planned, but my most favorite image was not planned. It is the image of Milky Way on Highway 1 (see photo at the top of the blog). In October 2011, I volunteered to shoot a Kathina Ceremony at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery in Redwood City, CA. After the shoot I decided to drive up to Fort Bragg to take some pictures on Highway 1 at sunset. Unfortunately it was foggy and I didn’t get any good shots. So I drove back down heading back to San Francisco. Highway 1 was fun to drive through all the curves until it became completely dark. I was exhausted so I decided to have a break. I parked my car in the rest area, turned off the lights and closed my eyes. When I opened my eyes again the first thing I saw was the bright Milky Way right in front of me. All the fog was gone. I captured that image in a “Verizontal Panoramic” (that is what I call my vertical panoramas) from the ground all the way to the back of my head. I am happy that the image won the 4th place APA Something Personal in 2011.

I have tried a few ways to get the best panoramic images. After a few successes and lots of mistakes, I found out the process should be ‘Go for it’, ‘Grab it’, and ‘Groom it’

Go for it. It means you have to drive, walk, climb trees or even get into the water to get the best spot. So I have driven on, and gotten stuck in, wet salt; climbed trees on the edge of a cliff; and walked bare foot in freezing water to get to the spot I want. But you have to be careful for yourself and your camera.

Grab it. This part is to capture the image. I think it is the most important part because if you don’t capture correctly, you will not be able to process it. What you need for the shoot are a stable tripod, a panoramic head with safe lock and water level, and a remote shutter release. Once you make sure you have your camera on a stable tripod, try to pan your camera from left to right (or right to left) to see if you can capture the image straight. For me, I prefer capture from left to right as the way I read my books.

The most important factor to stitching a panoramic image is to have enough information for the software to read and be able to merge all of the images seamlessly. After you have framed the image and are ready to shoot, try ‘zooming out’ a little bit because capturing a wider area will make it easier to edit and crop out the unwanted portions. I normally shoot the first frame and move to the second frame by having 50% of the first frame overlap the second frame. This will make sure I will have enough information for the editing process.

Another important factor in shooting panoramic landscapes is the dynamic range of the image. The best time to shoot landscapes for me is sunrise or sunset. Because those are the times when there are lots of shadows on the ground and the sky is still bright, extended dynamic range becomes very useful. I prefer capturing 3 to 5 exposures for each frame, unless it is a very high contrast scene during which I will capture a 7-exposure range instead.

The techniques I mentioned need some practice. I sometimes start shooting images at sunset where I start with the sun above the sea level on my first image and it had already disappeared by the time I shoot my last frame. I don’t want to encourage anyone who is not familiar with their tools to shoot extra exposures in twilight time because the software may not be able to stitch the images. I suggest you practice multiple exposure panoramic images in the daytime by shooting to the opposite side of the sun so you will get blue sky and flare-free panoramic landscapes.

Groom it. This is where your software creates some magic for you. Photographers have many ways to combine images together. I normally blend the exposures before stitching it together as a panoramic. There are a few software programs that help you blend images together depending on the style and look you want, but for stitching I prefer Photoshop’s Photomerge. It is automatic and the result is beautiful. I have used Photomerge since Photoshop CS 2 and it is getting much easier to use now.

It’s obvious you put a lot of work into your art…everything from finding the locations and waiting for the right light to the hours of precision computer work that goes into your images. What drives you, or motivates you, to go to such lengths for your art?

I have 2 role models who work very hard and never get tired. One is the King of Thailand who is 84 now and still working hard for his people, another person is my father who taught me ethics and work discipline. I’m willing to spend hours on planning, shooting, and retouching to make the best quality out of every image.
Once it is done, I think the image will speak for itself.
What strategies are you employing to further your photography career?

There have been a few challenges in the past year. It is a tough time for all businesses and I continue to try on new strategies. A few people asked me to compromise my image quality thereby reducing the hours spent on each image and allowing me to get more clients in the same period of time. I did try it for my personal work, but then I find I have to re-edit the work it again, so actually it takes a longer time. My strategy for my future is to keep delivering high quality images. But I will have more packages for clients, including working with graphic designers and illustrators. This solution will make a one-stop shopping for clients.

What role does Social Media play in your efforts? 

Social Media is very important. Facebook plays the major role of connecting people with same interests. It is also easy to see portfolios and who people are connected to. G+, Linkedin, Pinterest, Tweeter, these are important channels to let people know you are there to shoot for them. There are lots of good photographers, who never get a job because people don’t know them or their work.

Do you have, or are you seeking, gallery representation?

I am always interested in showing my works to the galleries. I have my panoramic landscape images ready to show. It would be great to have an opportunity to show in the galleries, but that hasn’t happen yet.

How does stock photography fit into your plans?

I was very interested in stock photography before I came to study photography here in US. Working as an art director, I had to search for new images everyday. Getty Images and Corbis were the places I spent hours every week. I always wondered how photographers shot stock. The images they shot looked so cliché, it should be easy to shoot. Well, it was not easy at all. I have tried to take pictures like what the ones I saw but I never came close. So I began to study photography. Now I know how they do it, and now my photos are on Getty Images where I used to spend so much time looking.
Thank you John, my internship with you was an important ingredient to my education.

What is your biggest challenge in creating stock photography?

The biggest challenge in creating images is still the concept. Pre-visualizing an image is a good start before creating a strong image. Concepts can start from basic key words that people are using everyday like ‘network’, ‘election’, or ‘taxes’, but it is not as easy as it sound.

Do you have a long-term plan written out, or do you just “wing it”?

My long-term goal is to can create any images I like around the world, either for clients or for my personal work. I do not have a written plan… it is more like a mind map. I learn new things every day that help me progress towards my goal. 

From where do you get your inspiration?

I often get inspiration from other peoples work. It doesn’t matter if they are famous photographers or not. Also I can get inspired from movies and music. If I need complex work I listen to Beethoven or Rachmaninoff, if I plan to shoot something in nature with beauty I listen to Bach or Vivaldi.

What would people be most surprised to know about you?

I have lots of interests and experiences, which are reflected in my diversity of work.
I was born in Bangkok, but spent some of my childhood in London. I graduated in Musicology, but I decided to be a photographer. I like Metallica as much as I like Beethoven. I was a racecar driver and now I enjoy driving around U.S., though under speed limit.

You recently formed a partnership with Yifei Gu. How did that come about?

Yifei’s background was in arts and painting. She delivers spectacular images with style. Her works are filled with classic looks combined with elegant fashion and beauty. Those are the skills I was not familiar with before. My background was as an art director with a commercial mind-set. My images were focused on commercial concepts and technical aspects more than beauty as an art. We were classmates when we studied photography before. We saw each other develop and it was very interesting to see our works together turn out well. Working together helps us each make pictures.

How do you and Yifei divide up responsibilities…and what does each of you bring to the table?

With great advice from Chris Gramly, “Reducing the impact of the ego is a big part in succeeding”. Yifei and I have very clear communication and a unique relationship. We don’t have much conflict. We work together like a team. I respect her as an artist. We plan shoots together from scratch, drawing layouts, drawing lighting maps, and the look of the final image we want.

Yifei can see the subtle difference in the models that match the concept. While she is taking care of the beauty side by directing and styling the model, I will plan about lighting direction and the light modifiers we want to use. This solution helps managing our working time effectively before the day of the shoot. I still have a lot to learn from her, we are honing our skills every day.

Do you shoot motion or have plans to get into motion?

We shoot motion sometimes. Both Yifei and I have background in movies too. But if we can choose, we still prefer still photography.

How much of your time is spent shooting?

Before I become a full time photographer I had a dream that I would take pictures every day. But as time goes by, I learn new things every day. I learn that I have to plan for the shoot, participate in social networking, meet with clients, edit pictures, archive the digital files, and work at printing and design. Now I have less than 20% of my time taking pictures.

Where do you see yourself and your career five years from now?

I am aiming to work more with advertising agencies. I believe with my experiences as an art director I will be able to deliver high quality images for their campaigns.
Other than assignment work, I will still contribute to stock photography. I like the freedom of creating anything I like on my own terms.

What advice do you have for photographers starting out on their careers?

There are some differences between taking pictures as a hobby or taking pictures as a full time photographer. The main difference is the whole idea of taking photographs for pleasure will start to fade.  Once you become a professional, taking pictures means expenses and responsibility. Expenses are in Cameras, lenses, lighting equipment, computers, maintenance, and other business expenses. One has responsibilities for other people’s important projects, their time, or their once-in-a-lifetime moment.   I would suggest anyone who falls in love with photography to think carefully before leaving his or her current job. The best advice is to keep shooting! For me, I never regret being a photographer.

What is it that I have forgotten to ask?

I came to this point with lots of support from family, friends, and people around me. I would like to thank everyone who gave me experience and support. Both good and bad critics will help me grow in photography and become a better photographer. I hope my work will inspire some of you to be better photographers!

Tom, I know both you and your work inspire me!

 Tom Penpark "Grabbing It").

Tom's Partner Yifei gu.

To see more of Tom and YiFei's work:

Tom's main website:

 Yifei's website is

Friday, November 2, 2012

Making Money With Cell Phone Pictures

A hand holds a color sample card in front of a color display in a photo about home improvement and decor. 
 My first cell phone stock photo! I just uploaded this image into Blend Images' New MEMENTO collection.
Making Money With Cell Phone Pictures
While there is much I don’t like about cell phone photography (see my previous blog post “Why I Hate Instagram”), I cannot deny that there is commercial potential. Heck, Time magazine just ran a cover shot with a cell phone photos! Stories are beginning to abound about the success of photographers using cell phones as their cameras.  But most importantly for me is the announcement by Blend Images of their new MEMENTO collection, a collection of commercially relevant images shot on cell phone cameras. With this new collection there is no doubt in my mind that I can be making money with my cell phone pictures.

A shout out to Blend's Jasmine Hartsook who designed the new logo!

My First Cell Phone Stock Photo
As a matter of fact, I just finished my first upload to Memento. My very first cell phone stock photo is that of the hand of my girl friend holding a color sample card in front of a color display for paints. It is a great example of one kind of image that is greatly facilitated by cell phone cameras…being there!  I had my cell phone in my hand, the color display was sitting there…and within a minute or two, with no fuss, muss or unwanted attention, I got the shot. Uh, I should mention that I used Photoshop to eliminate all the little logos on each card...but it didn't really take much time, and I used my laptop while watching mindless TV. BTW, so far I am avoiding the filtration apps and just using the standard iPhone camera. I am such a luddite that trying to figure out the ins and outs of the apps and so forth...well...I just don't have the patience for it. Maybe in the future....

A walk across the Golden Gate Bridge...and a stock photo!

The Best Camera Is The One You Have With You
As they say, the best camera is the one you have with you. Today I walked across the Golden Gate bridge with my fiance. I didn't have my regular cameras with me...but I did have my cell phone and managed to get this image (I did remove the ship's name from the stern). This is probably how the iPhone camera will most affect my own stock production...shots of opportunity...rather than pre-planned shoots.

A Supplement For Stock Imagery Production
I don’t see this kind of imagery really supplanting what I normally do, but I can see how it could supplement my stock imagery production. And you know what…it was kind of fun to do! Give it a shot…if it works out great…if not, no big loss.

A Collection For All Photographers
Back to Blend for a moment. Blend is opening up their Memento collection to everyone. This is a bold step for a “traditional” stock agency. But unlike many collections MEMENTO will be edited to insure that it is commercially relevant. It won’t be a fine art collection and won’t be a waste of time for people looking for cell phone type images to utilize in their advertisements, blog posts, editorial offerings… or whatever other need they have for photography. 

Blend’s List Of Content Needs
MEMENTO images need to be jpg files great than 10MB when open and can be either 72 or 300 dpi.  The color profiles can be either sRGB or Adobe RGB. And hey, you microstockers, Blend does the key wording (gotta like that!). Unlike other Blend collections this is not limited to multi-cultural business and lifestyle imagery…but does need to be commercially applicable and must have releases where required just as with traditional stock photos. Here is a list of Blend’s list of content needs for, as they put it, “pocket camera photographs”:

Quirky, humorous
Voyeur approach to lifestyle
Regional Interest (*see separate creative brief from 2011)
A day in the life of a person, couple, or group
Adventures - Road trip, urban, exotic, iconic, recreational sports, vacation
Celebrations & holidays
Being social with loved ones
All 4 seasons / day & night
Multicultural, traditions, and cultures
Nature – environmental concepts, weather (4 seasons, natural disasters, etc.)

The Occasional Image or A Body of Work
Again, for most us shooters this represents a chance to add the occasional image to our output. For some, however, this could be a bigger opportunity. If you have a love affair with your cell phone camera or  “pocket camera” and are constantly shooting I can see how a sizable body of work could be produced that might just result in a significant amount of revenue.  Only time well tell….

Great Money In Stock Photography
Those who jumped into Stock Photography in the early 90s made some great money. Those who jumped early into RF made some great money. Those who jumped into microstock early made some great money (okay...not All of them). For me, it just makes sense to at least test the waters in this latest direction of the stock photo industry.

To find out more shoot an email off to Blend’s Creative Director Sarah Fix. Her email is her first name 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Analysing My Top 100 Selling Stock Photos

Under Scrutiny: A woman sits at her desk in a fishbowl under the watchful eye of several business people. 
Stock photos under scrutiny: Analysis of my top 100 selling images.

Top 100 Selling Stock Photos
In my last post I shared that my top 100 selling stock photos for the last year have averaged over $1,000.00 apiece. In this post we will look at a few more details of those hundred images and see if we can draw any conclusions.  I need to point out that not the entire top one hundred images were shot by me. The collection includes images shot by a number of other photographers who have submitted through me.

Motion Clips
Three of the top hundred photos were actually motion clips. Kind of surprising since our collection includes over 8000 still images and only a few hundred clips. A word about motion clips here. In my experience the clips are more difficult and time-consuming to produce, and return me fewer dollars.  I don’t advise making a big commitment to motion unless you absolutely love shooting it.

Rights Managed, RF And No Microstock
Fifty-seven of the images are Rights Managed. The rest are RF. We do not have any microstock images in the collection. Two of the video clips were RM and one was RF.
Trying to decide if RM or RF is a better bet, based on these results, is not as simple as it might seem. For that information it would be better to compare shoots as opposed to individual images because with RF shoots you get a lot more images accepted. What I am seeing is that great RF images can bring in just as much as great RM images…which is sort of surprising in light of the fact that the photographer gets a bigger percentage with the RM images. If you include the increase in number of selects with RF, I have to say that I would give the edge to RF at this point.  It kills me to say that because I really love RM… oh well.

People Images, Landscapes, And Weird Composites
Approximately half of the images have people in them. The rest include landscapes, still lives, and hard-to-categorize images such as abstract lights, cloudscapes and weird composites. If anything, what I get from studying the best selling images, is that it doesn’t matter what category the image falls into, what matters is that concept images have a clear message, and lifestyle images have a feeling of authenticity.

Aging Images
In another interesting tidbit I found that sixteen of the top one hundred selling photos were ones I made over ten years ago! There were many more that were older than five years…but I didn’t count how many.  Another age-related trend I have noticed is that it takes a good six months from the time I send images in until they hit their licensing stride. I have heard that microstock images have a much shorter gestation period, but for me, in the more “traditional” market, it takes a fair amount of time. I surmise that part of the explanation lays in the time it takes for the images to get fully distributed through out the world.

Multiple Model Photos
Thirty-eight of the stock photos have three or more people in them. To me that is significant. I would guess that there are far fewer images out there with three or more models, so it makes sense that with less competition multiple model imagery has a good chance of having better sales.

Odds And Ends
Eight of the stock photos have a white background. Thirteen include computers. Two have ear buds.  There were only two of what I would call “traditional testimonial portraiture”, but they were both the same woman. I know some photographers who swear that the model is the most important element…perhaps this lends credence to that theory. I might add that this particular model, a woman, has an air of relaxed self-confidence…and curly black hair (which I have also heard is a good-selling trait).

Concepts And Business
Finally, I’d like to point out that our collection is heavily weighted towards concepts and business. Trying to get really meaningful information from an image collection dissimilar to one’s own is pretty tough. Heck, even looking at our own collection the main takeaway I get is that a little bit of everything sells. I always end up with the same direction: Create well-executed images with clear concepts and an emotional hook of either humor or authenticity, and it is hard to go wrong.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Is Stock Photography Dead?

A pair of hands frame the sun peeking out from a stormy sky in a photo about hope and possibilities.  
Is stock photography dead, or is the sky really the limit?
My Top 100 Selling Stock Photos
Over the last year my top 100 selling stock photos (out of 8,000+ images) averaged $1,169.00 each.  Based on that statistic alone I would have to say that stock photography is still alive and well. True, it isn’t like the old days when the competition was thin and the return per image was off the charts, but nonetheless, I believe that it is evident that making a good living at stock photography is still an option.  It is also worth noting that I know a number of stock shooters who are both better photographers and more productive than I am.

Increased Productivity And A Wider Audience
While it is true that my stock income has dropped over the last five years, I am now optimistic that my income will actually start climbing again.  I base that on my own increased productivity of late, and also in the increasing exposure of my imagery to a larger audience, something I have Blend Images to thank for.  Blend is doing a great job expanding their potential client base by getting their images in front of not just a vast number of traditional art buyers, but also getting them in front of microstock audiences at traditional RF price points.  Certainly the success of the “Vetta” collection and the  “Agency Collection” at have proven that the microstock audience is willing to pony up for higher priced stock photos.

Now Is The Time To Create Imagery
If you are invested in stock photography, now is the time to be creating images. When the world’s economy eventually pulls out of the doldrums then all those images will serve you well.  Too, because of the long-term nature of the business, it is important to be constantly building your library of images, and in my opinion, to be building traffic to your web site for additional sales and exposure.

Quality, Quantity and Success
In the insanely competitive world of stock photography success is a blend (no pun intended) of quality and quantity and can only be the result of dedication, passion, and a long-term commitment (if nothing else, I’ve got that long-term part down).  With the ever increasing use of photography and better distribution it just may be that the sky is the limit!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Clients, Cancellation Fees And Success


Two hands shake with a business meeting in the background in a photograph of team work, success and sealing the deal.
 The clients you want are part of the team, make sure you have the time and resources you need, and are willing to pay you what the job is worth.
Today I received an email from a friend and fellow photographer relaying the following story:

I drove all the way to SF to set up for a simple portrait in SF.
At the last minute the client called to say they found someone cheaper.  I was pissed. I called, tried to work it out with them. Was willing to come down by the small $50.00 difference. They said no.

So I sent them an invoice right away for a cancellation fee of the full amount.. They just called and gave me their credit card. Of course, they will never work with me in the future, but they were never going to anyway.

So I get the same amount I was going to get for shooting the shot, now I can go home early.

My friend was fortunate that he asked for a cancellation fee and got it. The story reminds me though of some things I learned in my twenty-five years of shooting assignments. You don’t want to waste your valuable time on second-rate clients. You are far better off turning down jobs from clients that aren’t willing to pay you an appropriate amount, and provide you with the resources (time and expenses) necessary to do a quality job. You are better off spending that time finding great clients. Great clients understand the value of your time…all of your time, don’t have a problem putting down a deposit, keep you informed, and pay you on time. Great clients are part of the team...not part of the problem.

A poor client will drag you down, label you as someone who can be hired cheaply, and then spread the word.  Remember, you will be known by the clients you keep. Want to succeed? Hold out for great clients and then work your ass off for them. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Five Rules For Success In Stock Photography

A woman sits at a computer with her head enveloped in a cloud obscuring her ability to make good decisions.
You can't be effective at any endeavor whether it is stock photography or stock market investing if you don't have a clear view of the reality of the world.

1. Get your head out of the clouds and understand what images the market needs.

2. Forget waiting for inspiration and get to work making inspiring images.

3. Quit looking at what others are doing and create the images that only you can create.

4. Remember that quality trumps quantity, but quantity is necessary.

5. Prepare for the long term by setting realistic goals and creating images that fulfill you creatively

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Power of The Unexpected

A hammer shatters against a light bulb in this illustration of the unexpected and power of creativity and ideas.  
There is power in the unexpected and a continuing need for images depicting creativity, ideas and thinking outside the box.
The Power of The Unexpected
There is power in the unexpected. Showing the unexpected, the unimagined and even the bizarre has the power to capture a viewer’s attention, which is, after all, the function of a stock photo. Harness that power in your stock photography.

Shattered Expectations
In this photo of a hammer, unexpectedly shattering against a light bulb, there are a wide variety of concepts that are being illustrated from creativity and inspiration to the impact of the unexpected. In a world drowning in images there is advantage to standing out from the crowd by creating visuals that can easily illustrate ideas and that have the advantage of not being seen before.

Creativity, Ideas And Inspiration
The light bulb obviously represents such concepts as ideas, creativity and inspiration. Having the hammer, an iconic symbol for strength and power, shatter against the light bulb makes a strong illustration of the power and influence of creativity and ideas…and does so in what I would argue is a creative image. This photo is further an illustration of the power of the unexpected and possibilities. It is an argument for opening your mind, thinking outside the box, and allowing for serendipity.

Rights Managed vs. Royalty Free
I don’t see this as a image that will sell a gazillion times, rather as one that will definitely have multiple sales, but sales totaling in the tens rather than the hundreds. As such I think it would be better served as an RM image, and I will suggest that to my editor at BlendImages (thought I will leave the final decision up to him).  BTW, these days one of the hardest aspects to stock photography is deciding whether an image should be RF or RM. Anyone who still thinks RM images will earn more money is probably in denial, and yet there is still a place for Rights Managed imagery. I do my best to make intelligent decisions but there just isn’t a foolproof set of criteria for such choices. Oh well.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why I Hate Instagram

This cyber warfare photo became possible when I happened across an army tank and grabbed a shot of it with my iPhone.

New Freedom With Photography
When I say I hate Instagram I am using the word "Instagram" as the category of pictures shot with a mobile phone. Now I didn’t always have such a dislike of mobile phone camera photos. I first took notice of such images when a friend of mine, Nevada Wier, showed me the images she was shooting with her iPhone. Damn they looked good! We were on a trip to India and here she was getting awesome looking images with her phone. I had visions of finally being able to discard my DSLR bodies and lenses and all that other camera gear and enjoying a new freedom with my photography.

An Excursion Into iPhone Photography
Unfortunately my brief (so far) excursion into iPhone photography hasn’t quite gone as planned. First, I find it very difficult to shoot great pictures with my phone. I have a hard time holding it steady, a hard time not getting my fingers in the pictures, and a hard time triggering the shutter at the moment I want. Too, I have a hard time finding the beauty in my phone pictures when viewing them on my desktop display (as opposed to my camera screen). Did I mention it is a pain in the butt to learn new things too? Looking on the good side, I sure have a lot of pictures of my cat now!

A Different Reality
Further, grab shots are not what I do. I shoot carefully composited concept images. Sure, the idea of never missing a shot appeals to me, as well as the idea of supplementing my stock library with those spur-of-the-minute opportunities. Yet I find the reality a bit different. I don’t seem to be finding those significantly good spontaneous opportunities and instead I feel constant pressure to produce, and constant disappointment in my own failure to come up with the awesome phone-camera shots that so many of my peers achieve.

Opportunities And “Breaks”
Yes I do continually look for opportunities with my iPhone in hand. Which means that now I never get a break from work! I spend so much time thinking about and “doing” stock photography that I am in constant danger of burn out.  Not having my equipment with me gives me a kind of break from that self-imposed pressure.  Or rather it did, because now I have my "equipment" with me all the time! To be fair I do get some interesting and useful images. In the “cyber warfare” image at the top of this post, the war tank was shot with my iPhone when I unexpectedly saw it on a trip to the dump. Without my iPhone handy I would never have created that stock image.

A Good Attitude And A Great Tool
Okay, yes, the camera phones are a great tool and, I guess, are already contributing to my career. The trick for me, as with most endeavors, is having a good attitude and the self-discipline to keep my approach a healthy one, one that contributes to my way of working rather than distracts from it. For some photographers mobile phone cameras can open up a whole new set of opportunities (check out David Sanger's Instagram work), for me it is one more love/hate relationship to be managed. And, I guess I don’t really hate Instagram after all:).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

It’s all About Production (Sort of)

The most successful stock photographers all have one thing in common, they consistently produce images. Some produce copious quantities while others produce higher production value photos...but they all consistently produce day in and day out.

Successful Stock Photographers And Production
Every successful stock photographer I know has one thing in common. They consistently produce. That may just be the key to everything. Production. The more imagery you produce the more your chances of success. The more great images you produce the greater your chance of success!

Which Image Will Be The Best Seller
It is a weird thing in stock photography, that you never know exactly which image is going to be the best seller from a given shoot. I always think I know which one it will be but more than half of the time I end up being wrong. One change I have made over the years is to create more photos from each shoot. More images from a given shoot increase my chances of having one or more images that qualify as “best sellers”.

Images That Are Needed And Wanted
For some stock shooters “production” means hundreds of images a month, while others, including me, think twenty images a month is a lot. I bet there are even successful stock shooters who shoot fewer photos than that!  In any case, in order to make production a worthwhile undertaking the results of that production have to be images that are needed and wanted in the market place.

A Mix Of Imagery
Whether you are shooting microstock or one of a kind Rights Managed imagery, to make your production effective you have to study the market and make images that fill a need appropriate for the time and effort that go into them. If not, your business will slowly starve to death. My own approach is to create a mix of easy-to-produce RF oriented images and higher-value Rights Managed images with distribution aimed at getting those images in front of the maximum number of viewers. But whether the photos are easy to produce or require days for a single image, I only create images that I believe fill a clear need and will sell. I am not just using a shotgun approach!

Setting Goals And Upping Production
One thing that has really helped me to up my production of stock photos is by setting goals. When I set the goal of creating an average of four images a week I was doubtful that I could achieve it, yet six months after setting that goal I find I am actually exceeding that number…though not by muchJ. When I study the photographers who I know are doing well in stock it seems to me that success lays in the simple formula of creating a lot of well-targeted imagery with appropriate production values. I also get the impression these successful stock shooters are careful in spending their money on shoots but are willing to invest enough to insure an appropriate production quality for the market they are shooting for.

Create Images!
Success is a process of understanding the market, understanding distribution, and understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses…then setting goals and getting to work. Just as I have seen that the most successful photographers are the ones who truly “produce”, I have seen a ton of photographers who forever linger on the outskirts of success by virtue of their procrastination whether it is from an endless “need to prepare”, build a “body of work” or focus on the obstacles rather than the prize.  To succeed toss those excuses aside and create images!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lord Ganesha And The Long Tail

Ganesha is the elephant-headed Hindu god of prosperity, the remover of all obstacles, who also goes by the name lord Ganapati.
Having extensive captioning and text along with my Ganesha imagery allows for greater web traffic via long-tailed key words (yeah, I know, I've used this picture on my blog before).

Ganesha’s Birthday
By 9:00 this evening over 2,000 Internet searches had ended at my site.  The top searched for word was “Ganesha” with 63 searches, followed by “Ganesh symbol” with 17, “wrecking ball” with 14 and “ganesha symbolism” with 10.  Ganesha is often the key word that brings most people to my site, but to have 63 was unusual, and to have the second and fourth most searched for terms to be also “Ganesha” related was quite unusual. I did a quick search on Google for “Ganesha” and quickly learned that today was considered Ganesha’s birthday!

Long Tailed Key Words
I then went back and started checking to see what other Ganesh-related key words were bringing in traffic. Below is the list of Ganesha related key words that I found in the first 500 search terms.   I didn’t bother going through all 2,000+ key words, but it appears that about ten percent of my day’s traffic was due to the key word Ganesha and it’s long-tailed variations (long tail key words being key word phrases containing two or more words)!

Long Tailed Key Words And Web Site Traffic
What we see from this list is a classic example of long-tailed key words and how they can build traffic. If I had a photo of Ganesha on my site with the minimal caption typical of what most photographers have I would only have had a fraction of today’s “Ganesha” traffic.  If you want more traffic to your site, include more caption material that the search engines can use to guide those looking for such images in your direction.

The Difficulty of Long Tailed Key Words
Another interesting aspect for long tailed key words is how hard it is, at least for me, to figure out what those key words will be. I find it a lot simpler to just try and write something interesting about the image. That isn’t all that easy either. To write coherent, interesting and relevant text takes time and effort…and a lot of it!

Long Tail Key Words, Targeted Traffic And The Long Term
Long tail keywords not only help bring in more traffic, but more targeted traffic as well, and if your selling something, whether it is prints, stock photo licenses, or imprinted coffee cups, targeted traffic can mean increased revenue. The conundrum, at least for me, is that the time and effort required to bring in that traffic, to write the captions, upload the images, work for the links is time that I can’t put into making images.  I am sacrificing making images in the belief that the long-term reward will make it all worthwhile. I’ll probably know in about five years…geez, I sure hope I’ll know!

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