>Having been away from the business for three years and coming back has been an eye opening experience. I’m seeing a few changes, and a lot of the same questions and issues coming from contributors. Unfortunately, I see there are a few folks I used to enjoy collaborating with who are no longer in the business as well. Here are some constant points that new contributors could benefit from, and perhaps veterans in the business could use a reminder of.
I liken the creation and marketing of an image similar to investing in the stock market with a “buy and hold” mentality. When you create an image, take the time to post process it, and take the time to list it through an agency, you are making an investment. Some investments are going to be more prosperous than others having higher returns. Others are not going to do much. They may sit and pay a dividend every once in a while, but they aren’t going to produce as well unless there’s a change in “market direction”. Some are going to be sexy to have – you’ll be able to brag to your friends about how great an investment (image) it is, how colorful or sharp the image is (great balance sheet), and that’s about it…it will sit and look nice in the portfolio, but it may not do much. The key is, if you aren’t invested in the market, it isn’t going to do anything for you. Your image will sit on your hard drive just as cash stuffed in a mattress sits and has no returns.
The key is to have a well diversified portfolio of different investment types…and to hold those images in the market for a significant amount of time.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Reviewing images is a subjective task. Aside from technical aspects surrounding an image, such as reviewing for focus, color, artifacts, etc., a reviewer may look at an image and determine it’s not marketable or it has the appearance of a “snapshot”. The advantage of working with different agencies is that each agency can market to its particular customer segment. If an image is refused for something other than technical reasons, there’s a pretty good chance that it isn’t going to do well at that agency anyway. There’s no reason to be upset at the refusal – just move on and submit it to a different agent. If you find yourself getting the same image refused for non-technical reasons at multiple agencies, then perhaps you should look at the composition of the image and determine if your intentions are in line with what’s required for commercial stock imagery.
It’s a good idea to remember that image reviewers are looking out for the best interest of both the agency, and the photographer. The agency wants to market the best images it can get its hands on, and the photographer wants to put his best face forward in front of customers. If both conditions aren’t met, then it could be bad business for both parties.
Trends are Cash Cows – Good Images are Timeless
Looking back through my portfolio I ran across an image of a pair of glasses on a 2005 Form 1040 income tax form. I think that image sold maybe a dozen times. That image will never be marketable again because it is specific to one year and was only on the market for about 3 months (the IRS releases forms in December and the marketable time of the image is about 2 months). Re-establishing my portfolio, the first image to get licensed again was that of a building being torn down. I created that image in 2005 and here it is six years later. Buildings will always be torn down, there will always be destruction, the construction and demolition industry are going to be around for centuries. This image, though not sexy, will be marketable for as long as images of that size and quality are available on the market.
Create images that are timeless and don’t expire, and you will continue to receive a payout for years to come.
Invest for the Long Term
This is one I learned from personal experience. Three years ago, there were some financial issues I needed to get over. I had to close the company down for a period of time. The reason is I insisted on having the latest and greatest equipment thinking it would make me a better photographer. While it’s true that good equipment will help to produce good looking images, it’s more important to note that an image or concept of great marketing potential is not dependent on the equipment utilized.
I once worked as a carpenter for a short period of time. My boss, who is also a friend, showed me that a screwdriver will work as a chisel, a knife will work as a screwdriver, sandpaper on a block of wood can be just as effective as an electric sander. If you know your trade, the equipment doesn’t matter. Know your trade. Buy quality tools that will last for years to come. Don’t buy the latest gadgets because you think they will make you better. Creating images will make you better.
Patience is key when marketing your images. Trends will come and go but if you have the patience to allow your images to sell, the patience to allow an agency to represent your best work that suits their customer base, and if you have the patience and self-control not to fall for the latest gadgetry, you will find yourself positioned well in the business of selling stock photography.
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