Saturday, April 16, 2011

Some thoughts on Photographer/Agency Relationships

You just can't create and produce a high quality image and expect that image to sell big time over and over again like it did in the hay day of Stock Photography.  Sure you might make some decent sales, but over the long run as more and more images are uploaded online, with cameras and software that allow everybody to take an ordinary picture and make it special, the return on your image is being lowered by this new competition.  We all would love it if we could return to the Golden Days of Stock where RM imagery rules the landscape and a tightly edited RM collection with great designed catalogs would showcase images that would sell for years. Dream on, those days are gone forever.  What can you do to survive the ravages of the economic collapse and the collapse of the Stock Photo Industry?  

Be willing to try different business models in order to keep your images seen and selling.  Does that mean put everything into clip/micro stock? Absolutely not but look for selling images at a lower RM price when a customer wants to license an image for personal use and where a lower asking price is appropriate given the clients request for usage rights in a local territory, short time frame, small image size, small print run etc...

Over the last 5 years if you shot imagery for a Stock Photo Agency your return on investment has gone down, down, down and that is whether you shot RM, RF, or Micro.  There is just to many images out there competing for every lowering prices. Add to this the competition to get your images accepted by any agency is getting harder and harder.  Of course you will here about a handful of elite studio production photographers still making mucho bucks but lets get real, the average Joe is not going to get rich shooting stock photography period.  And if you upload to Flickr or one of the other social network sites you might get a few low end sales with the occasional larger sale but mostly in my experience you have people who want to use your imagery for free and give you credit, No Thanks! 

Check your attitude at the door.  All a photographer can do is try and be as professional as possible and not get into a blame game with what is happening in the Stock Photo Business.  Consumer generated imagery is getting better and better with higher quality lower priced cameras and the ability to instantaneously upload those images to the web through Apps is mind boggling. Add in the fact that more and more advertiser and businesses are looking for video and your RM still imagery is getting less and less face time. The Internet is a free for all but if you stand your ground and respect your efforts to create great imagery you have a chance to bypass the Photo Agencies and sell direct to you targeted audience. In the web era you are not as reliant on the Stock Agency's as you once were.  

You can have your own website to market direct to your client base.  You have websites that can sell your imagery as prints, cards, posters, calendars, books etc...
You can decide if you are more comfortable selling your images as Rights Managed or Royalty Free.   

It is a must that you Keyword and Caption your imagery well so a search engine like Google/Yahoo/Bing can find your imagery. If they are not captioned and keyworded they will never be found.  Why create an image and then post it on the web and not keyword it properly.  All that effort for nothing. No one can tell you what to sell your imagery for but the main thing is not to give your hard work away for nothing. 

Some new hand held devices have a larger image screen and that might be an opening for photographers to charge more for an image license given the fact that the client will need a higher resolution image for displaying his ad. 

You must shoot original imagery and not get caught up in a numbers game like the micro shooters do.  If you try and copy that business model you will cut off your nose to spite your face.  Shoot what you enjoy and that will be fulfilling.  Shoot more personal work and images you want to create and subjects you want to explore. In this way you are  creating imagery that means something to you even if they might not sell. 

Exclusivity is a real problem in today's web image arena.  If you give exclusivity to a Photo Agency then that image can only be sold through that agent. The problem now is how cheap sometimes even a exclusive image is sold for.  In the old days exclusivity meant a higher return for your image because that client knew no one else had that image to compete against.  Now adays with cheap the name of the game even the exclusive agencies are selling your images at ridiculously low prices.  Why would you limit your images to one agent.

Non-Exclusive is the way to go.  This will free up your images to be sold in different territories where your Photo Agent has in roads and knows his customer base and can sell images for you that are appropriate. Getting images out there and into as many outlets as possible is the way to protect your income from the fast paced changes that are happening it seems overnight.

Early Halloween Images

In our neighborhood Halloween is a big deal.  Each year we create a haunted porch and scare the heck out of the little Trick or Treaters.  After the mayhem of Halloween night I take those pumpkins and create a humorous scene.  This is what I came up with after the 2010 Pagan holiday.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Editor that won't Edit?

What to do with an Editor that won't or can't edit your submissions.  Your first reaction is to yell and scream at him or her that they are not doing there job etc..

I have been submitting images to photo agencies for almost 30 years and have had an up and down relationship with my editors.  Years ago the relationship with editors was personal.   They were your friends and you saw them one on one at Stock Agency meetings and you took them out for lunch and vis versa.  There was an appreciation for the images you were creating back then and they wanted and needed a whole range of subjects.  Fast forward to 2011 and we have a whole new can of worms.  Technology ( has slammed the Stock Photo Business model (cheap, cheap images, sound familiar) and has made the proliferation of images on the web and small hand held devices easier than ever to shoot, upload and get seen and everyone is a content provider for the webisphere.  I mean everyone.  Given this, do we really need quote "professional photographers" anymore.  They seem so high and mighty thinking they are something special and have the inner knowledge that allows them to charge an arm and a leg for services and images to be used in print and web marketing.  Why I can do this and keep within my budget and I can take what I used to pay the photographer and now keep that for my own baseline profit.  Consumer generated content began the tsunami of images on the web and now studio production photographers are finalizing the race to the bottom pricing by putting the finishing touches on the Stock Photography coffin by submitting to Micro Stock, creating an ever increasing pool of great imagery at rock bottom pricing, great job!  Cheap imagery is cannibalizing everything in its path and it won't be long before the big Photo Agencies sell out to Yahoo or Google and give them a  business selling platform to sell everything under the sun.

There are still good editors out there that respect photographers and know that to create consistently good images it takes planning, time, money and talent.  I will go through what I believe is happening in the Stock Photo Industry that is affecting the Photographer/Editor relationship.  

1)There is a generation gap between the new young editors and the old guard stock shooters.  What you did in the past is irrelevant to them now.  They want edgy fast paced lifestyle imagery with bite and realism.  These new editors are juggling alot more than the old style editors that had the luxury to just edit a certain stable of photographers and that was his main job, editing and communicating client image needs to them.  

2) Added to this is the financial collapse of the economy and the cutbacks to the agencies staff.  In the past most Photo Agencies needed alot of everything as they built up there image files to fill gaping holes in the requests for subjects made by clients.  Now they are overwhelmed by the amount of imagery coming in on every subject imaginable and don't know how to handle it.

They have to edit for there Microstock brand, their Rights Managed brand, their Royalty Free brand and now video.  In the old days there were enough editors to go around whereby each photographer felt that they were getting some attention.  

3) The Rights Managed Independent photographer submitting his imagery to agencies has been sent to the back of the line.  Your imagery just isn't as important to the agencies anymore as it once was.  You can spend $1,000's of dollars producing a shoot and get one or two images selected, if your lucky, when in the past most or all were accepted into the agency.  We cannot compete in volume with the Studio Production Companies and the over the top numbers of consumer generated content the masses are submitting on a daily basis.  Think about it.  The Stock production companies have the inner ear of the editors and art directors at the agencies.  They can produce concept imagery by the thousands tailored specifically to the agencies needs and uploaded and out the door so to speak on a weekly basis.  Where the individual photographer has to come up with a concept, scout locations, buy the props, set up the shot, shoot and post process the imagery etc.., all time consuming and hope that his images that he created catch the eye of an editor that has already seen similar subjects and rejects all the imagery without even a real look at the submission.  Agencies do send out Creative Research briefs but one gets the impression that these requests are fillers for what the studio guys missed.

5) Check your attitude at the door.  Your submissions now go into a folder on some editors desktop and you wait and wait for any kind of edit but you end up sending e-mail after e-mail in a few months begging the editors to at least look at your submissions.  And even then they are so overworked that the silent responses to your requests is numbing.  And to make matters worse some agencies still have the photographer send in cd's that cost you time and money to burn and send by mail.  Where bitching and moaning in the past might have worked nowadays it usually falls on deaf ears.  Your just not that important to the overall scheme of where the Photo Business is going.  Get in line and shut up and maybe if we feel like it we'll get to your (over a year) submission seems to be the attitude of some editors.  

An editor still needs to respect the photographer that takes the time to submit a tightly edited group of images with PR/ MR ready and the majority of editors do respect the photographer/editor relationship.  But there are a few that seem to get caught up in the heady art directed power trip and can't be bothered by the  lowly independent photographer because his job is more important dealing with the heavy hitters in the industry.  These editors miss out on some great images that could be selling for them  but aren't because they haven't been edited..

Here patience is a virtue.  It pays to be calm and not let your emotions run rampant and do or say something you might regret.  Even though you are boiling over with frustration that a quote "professional" is not doing his/her job they are being paid to do.  

All a photographer can do is try and be as professional as possible and not get into a blame game with what is happening in the Stock Photo Business.  The internet is a free for all but if you stand your ground and respect your efforts to create great imagery you have a chance to bypass the Photo Agencies and sell direct to you targeted audience. In the web era you are not as reliant on the Stock Agencies as you once were.  So the moral of this story is to have many revenue streams for your imagery and not to be dependent on just one for your income.

Next, some things to consider before submitting to Agencies.

Jim Corwin