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Are We Off On The Wrong Track?Would Cartier-Bresson Be Accepted at Getty Images….?
History shows us that all aspects of creative expression go through phases as styles and public preferences change. Sure, fads and crazes come and go, let alone approaches in art. And as the ability to gain new information speeds up, thanks to the Internet, we’ll see art preferences change even more rapidly, whether it’s in women’s fashions, men’s hairstyles, or photography.
Here at Photosource International our customers require photos that reflect (in a real-life way) the world around us. We aren’t photojournalists, whose customers are usually news outlets, TV, and websites that pay high fees for disaster pictures (the kind we see nightly at the news hour); nor are we paparazzi who get paid well for photos of celebrities and their doings.
DROWNING IN WISHFUL IMAGERY
And especially we are not commercial stock photographers who specialize in wishful imagery (the world according to Getty, Jupiter, 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 in the breeze; day-glow chartreuse tennis balls; a close-up of a wind-swept fashion model; and of course, the cell phone guy.
Ho-hum, yawn. Is this the kind of subject matter thatattracts 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 or their family.
They encounter a fork in the road. They learn about Royalty-Free and Rights-Managed images. They embark on a career of supplying generic images, copying the style and content of the major stock houses.
Are these generic stock images the easiest pictures, to take for emerging commercial stock photographers? Next to snapshots, they are, 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 know the trends.
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 stock photo industry is to keep the successful concept the same, and add favored locations, clothing, hairstyles, preferred tones and tints.
Am I being too critical? 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.
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.
Dig deeper. If someone can easily copy your idea, then it’s not much of an idea.
Don’t be the stock photographer who wakes up one day and asks, “What have I been doing?” Have you followed the wrong track?
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. Everyday-life photographs are left to be produced by individual photographers who choose to interpret the world around them, void of any influence by art directors or monetary pressures.
Would Getty Images accept work from Henri Cartier-Bresson in today’s stock photography climate? Probably not. “Too narrow, too focused in subject matter…” an art director would say. “Incapable of selling product.”
IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE?
Can you wear two hats, that is, take meaningful, long-lasting photos, and also engage in stockschlock to put bread on the table? Probably not. A few have tried, but speaking two languages at the same time is near impossible.
But you can make money in editorial stock. Worldwide, $700 million is spent annually for “editorial stock photography.” Three fourths of that is “commercial editorial” stock, and about a quarter of that is what I define as true-life editorial stock, $17 million. That translates to about $50,000 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 Royalty-Free images. They need appropriate editorial stock that reflects the quality of the word content in their projects.
In short, if you follow the big money trail in stock photography, you’ll land at the major agencies and begin producing a commodity for them. But there are plenty of alternatives in today’s visual society. The choice is yours. You can follow your original dream.
Rohn Engh is director of PhotoSource International and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. E-mail: email@example.com . Fax: 1 715 248 7394. Web site: www.photosource.com.