07 Nov 2007 Learning From the Masters
At PhotoPlus Expo I had the privilege to attend presentations from some of the worlds most successful stock photographers. I took many notes about the business and strategy of making money selling stock photos. I’ve created a quick summary in this post, but I highly recommend visiting their websites and hearing them speak if you ever get the opportunity.
The first presentation was by Jack Hollingsworth. Jack is an experienced stock photographer contributing to all stock agencies. In fact, when asked where he contributes his photos, he challenged the audience to name an agency to which he didn’t contribute. They tried, but the answer to every suggestion was a quick ‘yes’.
The very first question was, “How are you being affected by microstock?” Jack’s response was simple: “We’re not. We’re still making over a million dollars a year.”
Jack’s dynamic personality came across instantly, and it was easy to see why he’s been so successful. At one stage when discussing the need to interact with models to get the desired expression for the shot, Jack recommended, “If you’re a dork, find another profession”. Shooting models requires different skills to shooting still life.
He had a long list of recommendations for shooting stock, photography, the business and the job. Highlights for me were:
- no shot list – no shoot
- 95% of buyers don’t care about exclusivity
- technical aspects of the shot are less important than the message
- 90% of stock photographers entering the profession give up before their first pay check!
Jack also got across a strong message about branding, which he himself embodies. Each member of the audience was given a printed brochure featuring many of his shots. He has a logo (at right) and consistent style across his brochures, presentation template and website.
Another message particularly struck me as relevant to many of the microstock contributors I know. Jack recommended photographers not get attached to their photos. It’s easy to understand that coming from someone who produces as many as Jack, but he further explained his point. Sometimes the thing in the way of getting a great shot is the photographer. Don’t be too concerned about style. That’s the job of the designers who buy your photos.
Photography is the easiest part of selling stock photos. Jack referred all questions about editing and keywording to his business partner, Manav Lohia of Photos India, who manages the business that does all this post processing work. He’s the photographer and not at all interested in these parts of the process. Such task specialization isn’t necessarily with domain of organizations such as Jack Hollingsworth Photography. Microstockers and macrostockers alike can outsource their keywording to companies such as Image Keyworder, who were exhibiting at the expo.
Model releases featured heavily in the conversation. Jack’s message: “Don’t shoot without them. You get sued.” He was speaking from experience.
The second master stock photographer I saw present was Ron Chapple. Ron is well known to the microstock world as he contributes to most of the top microstock agencies in addition to macrostock agencies. He has his own stock photography business, his own stock photography blog, and his own microstock brand, iofoto, whose logo appears to the right. He presented on a panel titled, Do It Yourself Creative Research.
There was also so much to take in from Ron’s presentation, but one thing that stuck with me was an application of the 80/20 rule. Ron is passionate about photography, but it’s also what he does for a living. To balance these two interests, Ron shoots 80% for profit, or “to pay the rent”. The other 20% he shoots for enjoyment and fulfillment of his passion. He shoots what he wants rather than what his research shows will sell. This portion often provides the creative and edgy shots that become best sellers.
Ron had some ideas about creative research that are perfect for microstock contributors. Watching TV with the sound off and reading/watching foreign media were two ideas to get ideas for photos, and these methods don’t have to cost anything.
Ron’s presentation contained some insights into the stock industry that show that there are ample opportunities for anyone who’s looking for them. “Walking through the airport should generate 10 ideas”, was his example of thinking like a stock photographer. Realizing that stock is not one market, but thousands of niche markets divided by keywords – the real estate of stock – opens up possibilities for any photographer to find their place to success selling stock photos.
View Ron’s creative research presentation online for more details and insights from a master stock photographer.