posted on 30th of january, 2011

"Stock is not art." Well, that's one of the first rules of stock photography.

Shoot something on white. Business people with a bit of blue. Make em sharp. Make em saturated. Shoot the best quality you can get from the highest megapixel camera with the sharpest lenses.

So how come this guy http://www.terryrichardson.com seems to be busy shooting for some pretty important brands and personalities?

And is this really what he shoots with? http://www.terryrichardson.com/contacts.html

It's worthwhile noting that there is almost nothing in Richardson's portfolio which would make it onto a “professional” micro site.

I mean, look at this monstrosity.

It's a simply shocking image for so many different reasons.

And who in their right mind would consider this to offer any photographic merit at all.

Despite this, Richardson's work is no laughing matter, because his bio (http://www.terryrichardson.com/bio.html) reads: “Terry has lensed campaigns for such clients as Gucci, Sisley, Miu Miu, Chloe, and his editorial work has appeared in magazines such as French Vogue, British Vogue, i-D, GQ, Harper's Bazaar and Purple, and his impressive list of subjects includes Daniel Day Lewis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Vincent Gallo, Tom Ford, Jay Z, Kanye West, Johnny Knoxville, Karl Lagerfeld, Pharell Williams and many others.”


Why would the rich, famous, powerful and creative want anything to do with someone who shoots images like badly lit snapshots?

My guess is that his work is original. It has personality. It's art.

It's so good he's managed to give the snapshot a personality. Even hot spots from an on-camera flash (http://www.terryrichardson.com/IMAGES/images/NaturalHistory_jpg.jpg) raise a smile.

As does the subject matter. (http://www.terryrichardson.com/IMAGES/images/willfarrellbeer_jpg.jpg)

Visually, you can guess the people Richardson does not like. (http://www.terryrichardson.com/IMAGES/images/Amy_Whine_jpg.jpg)

And those he does like.http://www.terryrichardson.com/IMAGES/pages/TR_Obama_jpg.htm

Is he one of the boys?http://www.terryrichardson.com/IMAGES/images/Batman_Robin_jpg.jpg

Or likes girls?http://www.terryrichardson.com/IMAGES/images/Lindsay_Lohan_jpg.jpg

Brands crave personality. And the people who manage brands know it. So do people who have to manage their own brands. Like politicians, actors and musicians.

Just five years ago, gaining access to high quality, professional-looking stock images was prohibitively expensive – with rights managed rates ranging from the thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now everyone has a camera capable of producing professional images and microstock agencies and their contributors turn out thousands of great looking images for $1 a download every day.

Those “great” professional images are sharp. They have even focus throughout the range – no dramatic depth of field. They have strangely orange saturated models (I should know, I've got a Lab Colour PS action just for that). The people are always smiling with impossibly white teeth. Thumb's up, all on white.

Hopeless. Sterile. Artless. Crap.

I've done it too.

It's not entirely the photographer's fault either. Stock image inspectors are ruthless at rejecting images with personality. It's a kind of “paint by numbers” process of elimination which rates sharp images good and unsharp images bad, scanned film grain universally ugly and candid snapshots unprofessional.

So, in a way, by flooding the market with “perfect” stock images, it's the micro sites which have inadvertently made the “good” image bad and the “bad” image good. The market has been flooded with “good” images and “bad” images – or ones with more arse than class – are difficult to find.

Fair is foul and foul is fair.

I like to call this odd turn of image opinion “ant********” (DT auto editor - that should be anti and stock as one word). I have no idea if it's a trend, or if it's here to stay but keep a look out for:

1. Images shot on 35mm film with lots of grain.
2. Odd colour shifts from aged Polaroid film.
3. Extreme lack of depth of field. (Nose in focus, eyes out).
4. Snapshots.
5. Strange compositions and crops, including chopped heads, arms, feet.
6. The subtly gross.
7. The spontaneous.
8. The strange.
9. The shocking.

Few of these images would be accepted on any self-respecting stock site. So by definition, they are going to be rare, interesting and have personality. Some may even go so far as to call them art.

This blog was originally published on my website here.

Comments (7)

Posted by Amlyd on January 31, 2011
I like like badly lit snapshots - I make 'em all the time
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 31, 2011

If that image with Viggo Mortensen would be uploaded on Dreamstime it would likely be an editor's choice, now, if the dude was unknown it may be approved but wouldn't sell much.

yes, a reputation does help, like anything in the business world. you make chicken or burger as good or better than xxx but a million will still buy from that dude who became famous for his chicken. or that highly synthetic hamburger, lol
stock photos are the same. or art in general. one walk through a musuem in Ottawa will prove this. a good Business Manager helps incredibly in making you a failure or success ;)
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 31, 2011
Alistair, good points all, and cheers for the response to further personal insights. Further discussion, maybe a bit OT,..
You're right for sure, in saying there is no fixed idea of what is good or bad stock . Proof in case is we simply have to look at what is selling and many times, even someone in Photography 101 or Printing 101 will roll their eyes.
Which again, goes back to what someone once pointed out somewhere, why not reject on specifics ie. fringe, artifacts, dirt,etc.. and leave the rest to the buyer. Who is to say what has LCV? why place so much on one human being to say this is good or bad. At worse, the site loses a potential image to sell for both contributor and agency.
This is why I and many prefer Dreamstime. If the photograph is clean white, well exposed, excellent post processing ,etc.. why reject it because someone thinks it will not sell? Subjective rejection reasons are debatable. Even graph visible is too, considering a client would never ever do this, nor would...(More)
Posted by Nikitu on January 31, 2011
By the way, we don't necessarily reject images shot on 35mm, on the contrary, we are less demanding technically when it comes to those. But as far as microstock in concerned you gotta accept what sells and give credit where credit is due.
If that image with Viggo Mortensen would be uploaded on Dreamstime it would likely be an editor's choice, now, if the dude was unknown it may be approved but wouldn't sell much.
Posted by Wisconsinart on January 30, 2011
It's an ongoing situation that hasn't changed in hundreds of years.

In stock, there are Reviewers who are clueless as to what is GOOD and what will SELL.

In art, worthless crap may receive credibilty because you only need a few people of note to praise an artist or work.

In the end, it's all subjective and everyone who attempts to produce either commercial or artistic work will hit roadblocks because of ignorance.

The best of the best appreciate criticism and find ways to overcome all the issues.
Posted by Alistaircotton on January 30, 2011
@ Tan510jomast

I don't think stock images are bad at all, since we all know just how hard it is to make a great selling image.

That said, the opening line of a well-known book on stock imaging reads something like “Stock is schlock”.

I understand that description as “artless” or “crap”. In the nicest possible way, of course – since those same artless, crappy images have been selling very well as stock.

Stock reviewers choose “good” images and reject “bad” images. Otherwise there would be mayhem in the search engines.

But what exactly is a “good” image and a “bad” image?

Since there are so many “good” images available at low prices there may be a glut of supply. So every “mediocre” brand can use “good” images now. Or images which have been perceived as “good” in a set of criteria laid down by microstock sites.

In this kind of situation, the “good” image is no longer rare and as a result may have reduced value....(More)
Posted by Tan510jomast on January 30, 2011
Sorry I am in a hurry, being the weekend, so forgive me if I comment out of term or miss the point of your post. But I comment based on your "stock is not art" and "inspectors are ruthless" "hopeless sterile artless crap"... keywords.

I think , as one photographer to another, it is very important to wear two hats. especially if you are in my situation where I am a working photographer doing freelance work for the industry 18 hours a day, and then coming home to do microstock for say while I am having a Guinness, lol.
Stock is not art, or shooting for Vogue or even shooting to be the next Ansel Adams or Richard Avedon. No, it is not even like trying to be W. Eugene Smith or Karsh, my idols from day 1 of my photo career.

We have to stop looking at stock photos like we are photographers, or instructors for Commercial Photography seminars,etc. It is not photographers who are using our micro stock photos. Most times, it is going to be on the box of some cat food or toilet paper ad, so...(More)

Comments (7)

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Photo credits: Alistair Cotton.

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