Monday, January 7, 2013

A Commercial Vision, And The Question Why

A funny Beagle stands in a butler's outfit holding a tray and ready to serve in a funny stock photo.  
This Butler image, of a funny Beagle Hound, is representative of being in service, something that we stock photographers would do well to remember!
Neville Page And Movie Creatures
Yesterday I attended a talk by Neville Page at the Oceanside Museum Art where he was having a show of his “Creature” work for films such as Super 8, Prometheus, Cloverdale and others.  At the end of his inspiring presentation I asked him to tell us a quality or two that he possesses that is responsible for his great success.

Success And Giving Up One’s Vision
I found his answer to be illuminating (since I did not take notes I am paraphrasing the following). The first thing he said was that he felt it was of the utmost importance to remember at all times that the vision that was being created was not his, but the clients (in his case that would be Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, J. J. Abrams or someone of that ilk). He went on to say that if one gets too caught up in the preciousness of their own art it becomes a detriment to both the success of the project and to one’s success within the industry as well. That letting go of “possession” of the vision opens one up to greater things.

A Commercial Vision And Successful Stock Photos
While Neville is referring to his business of designing creatures for feature films I can see how this same concept can be effectively applied to stock photography. Lately I have noticed that several successful stock shooters have attributed at least part of their success to keeping a “commercial” emphasis as opposed to a “creative” one  (I don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive).  If we stock shooters use that “commercial” aspect as the client, then we can keep our “creativity” focused in a way that will maximize the monetary return on our invested time and resources. In other words, I try to remember that I am at the service of all those people, organizations and businesses that need stock photos.

Selling Your Ideas And Stock Photography
The next part of his answer to my question applies more obviously to assignment photographers…and that is the ability to sell your ideas. BTW, every once in a while I have had to sell an idea or image to an agency editor and this can apply to that scenario as well. The specific point Neville made was that it is important to be able to answer the question of “why”? For example, if a client, potential client, or even agency art director asks why a given photo includes a stormy sky (for the sake of argument) and not a blue sky, one might answer that the storm clouds are symbolic of the turmoil in the financial markets as well as adding an element of drama and emotion to the image. Back in my assignment days I recall one of my reps, a very effective one, explained to me that if an art buyer asked “why” and she had a legitimate answer then the bid would likely go through. If she didn’t have a clear and confident answer then the bid would likely start the process of being squeezed to ever smaller numbers.

The Question “Why” And Strong Stock Imagery
Perhaps even more importantly, if you find that you cannot answer questions about your image…then perhaps that image needs further strengthening before being put in front of prospective licensors, and in today’s market, where algorithms move your body of work higher or lower in search rankings depending on the success of your photography, it is more important than ever to be putting out only the strongest of your images.  In fact, if you can put out only your best work and truly be in the service of the clients who need imagery, it is hard to imagine that you wouldn't be successful!

1 comment:

Dick Wheeler said...


However, it is not hard to see that success selling stock images has been in a long decline, no matter how good the work produced. The prodigious inflow of all kinds - RF, RM, microstock, etc. - has crushed the old business model. The new model, I am afraid, in time won't include people like you, John, who do original, creative work that takes time, money and significant skill to produce. Your work will maintain its premium, but the demand/supply calculations only point selling price one way now - toward zero.

Most disturbing is that our instinctive sense of the value of photographs falls in tandem. In our collective consciousness, images literally and figuratively become a dime a dozen. Uniqueness and rarity provide value, and will continue to do so, but those are becoming rare attributes themselves in the vast universe of images that continues to expand at an exponential pace. If that changes, then a new day beckons. Otherwise.....

But I am hoping you will prove me wrong.