Master to Grasshopper: "When you can snatch pebble from hand, it will be time for you to go."
The old television series KUNG FU in many ways mirrors the artist journey, including the genre of photography. KUNG FU was essentially the story of a single journey for discovering the inner self. It was a desire for wisdom, knowledge, and figuring out a way to become wise and knowledgeable while overcoming prejudice and ignorance.
One thing many people overlook in KUNG FU is Grasshopper was not the only one who desired to discover the secrets of knowledge. There were many who demonstrated to the Master they were not worthy and were outright kicked out of the monastery. For whatever reason, they were never able to figure it out and were harshly dismissed upon the ire of the Master.
These are things I have in mind after reaching the milestone of $10,000 in earnings at DreamsTime. It is a great accomplishment but am I truly figuring out the microstock industry?I see many portfolios with less images and more sales in a shorter period of time compared to me. Yet I see many who struggle to figure it out. There is no Master to guide us; we must be our own Master though as a community, we can be mentors for each other.
A "I Made $10,000 At DreamsTime!" blog wouldn't be worth the read if it didn't offer any tips, so before I do that, let me tell you a little about myself; it will provide you a better context of how my overall experience fits into stock.
I've been doing different kinds of art for almost 40 years. I've been published in multiple newspapers and magazines. I've taken classes for oil and watercolor painting. I've taken numerous photography classes at local colleges and universities. I belong to a photography group made up of photography professionals and artists where many have solid credentials (ie making a living selling photography). I was given a Kodak Instamatic camera for my 11th birthday which is how I became interested in photography.
Regardless, I still consider myself to be a wannabe-artist. I've never made much money with my art. Yet, it has been a journey of "figuring things out." I've dealt with editors, reviewers, critiques from professionals, marketed myself to galleries, etc.
Little things can be huge barriers. You want to get into a gallery? What if you need 20 images, all matted and framed. Do you know what it costs to have someone mat and frame a single piece of artwork and then do that 20 times? I've learned how to do my own matting and framing along with many other things.
In "real life" I have a degree for computer science and am a database programmer. I know how the internet works. I know what is going on with the DT database. I understand algorithms for search engines.
When I joined DT in early 2009, I was fortunate to already have these tools and experience behind me though I did not know very much about the world of microstock. When I look at messages in the forums and various portfolios, I can see the struggles many are having, the same struggles I had when starting out. It took me a very long time just to figure out how to mat a print, this was back before the internet and information on the ready. I eventually discovered a Saturday class at a local art store and paid $75 for a three hour session. It was another $70 for the mat cutter. I eventually figured it out!
This is not going to be another blog with tips on how someone reached a milestone... There's been enough talk about being imaginative, unique, and conceptual. The beginner will empty the refrigerator of all its vegetables and run to the hardware store to buy a $7 hard hat, but that's part of figuring it all out. Learning, thinking, and experimenting. Submitting an isolated tomato may be a running joke in the stock world, but you have to give credit to those who try to think stock. It is amazing how many never go beyond generic architecture and landscapes; they just never figure it out.
If you're reading this then you probably follow the forums to some degree. There is a lot of information there and a lot of misinformation. There was a recent posting, someone wanted to know why all the thumbnails on DT were suddenly dull. Think about that; overnight all the images on DT changed? I had a similar problem but it was because I needed to clean my monitor. I was accused of being rude for interjecting such a comment. For the rest of you watching, are you able to figure out what the real issue might be?
Another time someone posted about their new baby and wanted to know what people thought of the images. They were really nice baby pictures. However, if you studied the database, you would have seen the database is saturated with generic baby pictures. I said no one really wants a picture of someone else's baby; instead, try doing some concepts like changing the diaper and other issues new parents encounter. Some people only saw "No one wants your baby pictures." Master would have had harsh words for those grasshoppers. If you can't figure out what sells and what doesn't in stock, well, Master will be banned from the forums if he pours a cold bucket of wisdom onto someone's keyboard.
Then there are all the "theories" out there for getting Buyers to look at your portfolio. There have been endless discussions on how to get more views, facebooking, twittering, etc. As I said, I work in IT and I could write pages on how the internet works and how people USE the internet. When I look at portfolios of people who swear by utilizing the various "tricks," I do not see their images getting any more views than comparable images. In the end, a good image is going to sell more than a bad image. And that's one thing everyone has figured out but also forget: Create a better product than the competition and you will increase your odds for success.
Here's another thing people need to figure out: Working with limited resources. You don't have a 2000 square foot studio and a dozen beautiful models willing to for for you cheap? Does that mean you're stuck shooting tomatoes and buildings and landscapes? You already know the answer to that, but how many people figure out ways to create good ideas for stock that is within their means?
When I look at the database, I see tremendous opportunity because of all the topics that have yet to be covered. This is despite the gloom and doom of the stock industry over saturating itself. The only trouble I have is finding time to work on all my ideas, but that is something I need to figure out.
The theme of this blog should be obvious by now. Stock photography is a series of obstacles. When you encounter an obstacle you need to figure out a way past it. And you need to learn as you go.
Grasshopper: "Master, do baby portraits sell well?"
Master: "Grasshopper, have you studied the database?"
Grasshopper: "Yes, Master. There are almost no images of babies having their diaper changed but I am only going to do baby portraits because that's what everyone else is doing."
Master: "But did you see how well baby portraits sell?"
Grasshopper: "No, Master, I've been too busy tweeting my pictures of generic buildings."
Master: (Getting impatient) "Grasshopper, try to snatch pebble from hand."
Grasshopper: "Yes, Mas..." WHACK! "Master! That wasn't a pebble! That was a rock! And why did you hit me with it?"
Master: "What colors do you see after I hit head with rock?"
Grasshopper: "Look, Master! The colors in my pictures have faded after you giving me a black eye! There must be something wrong with my camera!"
No, I don't have all the answers. My portfolio and stats are proof of that when compared to others. But I am making progress. There have been many times when the rhetorical Rock Of Learning has been smacked against my skull.
But as a community, there is a greater wisdom as we share our knowledge and experiences. Filtering out the noise and discovering the wisdom, that is a trick unto itself. The point is, the answers are there. They are in front of your nose. That is why I didn't post a blog of little tips. Figure out the answers to your obstacles. Figure out how to succeed. If you are not making progress, what needs to change? That is the one real tip I can offer for your journey.