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The Two Faces of Stock Photography
Who are the players in the game
of selling photos?
The players, of course, are the photographers and the buyers – but there are two separate “games” they play in, plus, the stock photos differ depending on which game they're in.
To get a clear picture of this, take a magazine and tear out all the advertisements. The photos that remain are what we call “editorial photography” [game 1]. (The ads are “commercial photography” [game 2].)
Stock photography is used in both areas, but with some big differences.
Most commercial photos are shot in studios or on contrived locations. They conform to the wishes of several parties: the client, the ad agency, and the art director(s) -- the photographer doesn’t have much say in it except to click the button.
Editorial photos meet the wishes of the editors of a magazine, book, or newspaper and/or, a photo researcher, but first and foremost the photo initially meets the wishes of the photographer. The editorial photographer has complete control of the image.
Commercial stock photos can be designed and produced by the photographer, but they are constricted by the dictates of having to conform to “what sells.” The photographer must tailor the photos to fit into commercial clients' needs, trends in the industry, and to appeal to a wide, general audience. The resulting photos are often called generic images because they can fit a variety of uses, appeal to a wide audience, and can produce multiple sales.
THE MARKETS DIFFER
Editorial stock photos are produced by a different approach. Rather than appeal to the commercial needs of a client, the editorial stock photographer follows his or her own interest areas, their own needs, and enjoyment in photographing certain segments of life and culture. Examples: medicine and health, sports, social issues, travel, etc. The photographer then sells these photos to markets that use images in those specific subject areas.
Buyers in the commercial field, range from graphic design houses, to corporate art directors, to ad agency creative directors. There's much turnover in these positions, so the ability to develop a consistent working relationship with these markets is frustrating and difficult.
In the editorial field, the buyers range from photo editors at books and magazines, to photo researchers--the people who are hired by publishers and art directors to seek out highly specific pictures.
There's less turnover and more longevity with editorial buyers. Editorial stock photographers can enjoy strong long-term working relationships with photobuyers in the editorial field, -- which translates to more consistent sales.
Rohn Engh is director of PhotoSource International and publisher
of PhotoStockNotes. Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. If you sell your photos, check out his website. E-mail: info[at]photosource[dot]com . Fax: 1 715 248 3800. Web site: www.photosource.com