Follow Your Dream
There’s A Lot Of Room For You

In the world of “art,” fads and crazes come and go. History shows us that all aspects of creative expression go through these phases as styles and public preferences change. Whether it’s in women’s fashions, men’s hairstyles, or photography, as the ability to gain new information speeds up, thanks to the Internet, we'll see art preferences change even more rapidly.
Here at Photosource International our photobuyer-customers require photos that reflect (in a real-life way) the world around us. We aren't photojournalists, whose customers are usually news blogs, TV, and websites that pay high fees for disaster pictures (the kind we see on the nightly news); nor are we paparazzi who get paid for photographing celebrities and their doings.


And especially we are not commercial stock photographers who specialize in wishful imagery (the world according to Getty, iStock, and Corbis).

The Internet is now drowning in this kind of imagery. Check out any of the on-line agencies. They're all there: the generic lovely blonde with green sunglasses; a suit throwing documents into a briefcase; day-glow chartreuse tennis balls; a close-up of a wind-swept fashion model; and of course, the smartphone guy. Ho-hum, yawn.

Is this the kind of subject matter that attracts an emerging photographer to the field? In the majority of instances, people decide on a photographic career because of their love of capturing something meaningful or poetic with their camera. They win a prize, they take a photography course, and then they search for ways to make money with their talent, to provide for themselves and their family.

Eventually, they encounter a fork in the road. They learn about microstock, Royalty-Free, and Rights-Managed images. They embark on a career of supplying generic images, copying the current style and content favorites of the major stock houses.

If the photographer takes the copycat approach, most commercial stock shooters have found that the effortless way to produce a bunch of commercially-acceptable stock images is to capitalize on the ideas of the leading stock houses that have done the market research and have anticipated the trends. Are these generic stock images the easiest pictures for emerging commercial stock photographers to take? Yes, next to snapshots, they are.

This has always been the formula for the fashion industry, the music industry, and most other industries where taste and trends guide production. The recipe in the commercial stock photo industry (as opposed to editorial stock photographers) is to keep the current successful image concept the same, but add favored locations, clothing, hairstyles, etc.

Am I being too critical? I hope not. I'm asking, "Is this how you want to spend your creative life?" It seems to me that this kind of photographic activity takes not much more talent and creativity in photography awareness, than photographing fireworks, or hot air balloons, or sunsets and rainbows.

Here’s a test: check out the advertising photographic awards of the year before last, or ten years ago—this'll give you an idea of the shelf life of such commercial stock photos.

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Dig deeper. If someone can
easily copy your idea, then it's
not much of an idea.
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Don't be the stock photographer who wakes up one day and asks, "What have I been doing? Have I been shooting to please myself – or someone else?”

Sure, some of the major stock agencies call attention to real-life editorial images, or even historical images. Getty Images, for example, features the TIME-LIFE Magazine collection; Corbis features the Bettmann Archives. But these are not contemporary images.

Contemporary "editorial photographs" are usually interpreted as disaster pictures or photos that are newsworthy. This is commercial stock or journalism. Everyday-life photographs are left to be produced by individual photographers and street photographers who choose to interpret the world around them, void of any influence by art directors or monetary pressures.

Would Getty Images, in today’s stock photography climate, accept work from Margaret Bourke-White, the famed photographer of the ‘40’s? Probably not. "Too narrow, too focused in subject matter…" an art director would say. "Incapable of ‘selling product;’" “not our market;” “too down-beat.”


Can you wear two hats? That is, take meaningful, memorable photos, and also engage in stockschlock to put bread on the table? Probably not. A few have tried, but speaking two languages at the very same time is near impossible.

But you can make money in editorial stock. Worldwide, $900 million is spent annually for "editorial stock photography." Three fourths of that is actually "commercial editorial" stock, and about a quarter of that is what I define as true-life editorial stock, with around $60 million spent for it annually. That translates to about $10-$11,000 a day spent on non-commercial editorial stock.


Some publishers (of coffee table books, textbooks, etc.) spend $150,000 a month for photography. They're not interested in inexpensive microstock images. They need appropriate editorial stock that reflects the quality of the word content in their projects, and they pay the higher prices these photos demand.

In short, if you follow the big money trail in stock photography you'll find there are plenty of outlets for your kind of editorial stock photography. There are plenty of alternatives in today's visual society. The choice is yours. You can follow your original dream.

As an editorial stock photographer you are going to find much more enjoyment when you are photographing subject matter that you like to take. Learn more about how to sell those pictures at PhotoSource International and the PhotoSourceBANK, Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. Rohn Engh is director of and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. E-mail: Fax: 1 715 248 3800;

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