Heller on stock photography

Dan Heller has two great posts about stock photography on his Photography Business Blog. One covers royalty free vs. rights managed stock. The other post covers Corbis.

If you’re interested in stock, make sure to have a look at the article he links to called Five contributions to decline of stock which discusses the following five issues:

      • The decline of print media
      • An oversupply of stock photography
      • Super-cheap images
      • Google Images, Flickr, and user-generated content
      • Customer and contributor confusion

Dan then goes on to clarify his views on the stock photography market. Interesting reading.

3 thoughts on “Heller on stock photography”

  1. I’ve always appreciated Dan Heller’s no-nonsense writings. I especailly appreciate Fred Voetsch’s reply:

    “…I find all of this quite obvious, as do most thinking, reasoning people. The shocker is that some refuse to accept these changes and even try to blame the changes on those who take advantage of new technologies and methods.”

    I couldn’t have put it better, myself.

    I also appreciate British stock photographer David Kilpatrick’s comment, “how [do] you drive a wedge between your own work and the rest of
    the world, except by remarkable subject matter?”

    In the future (maybe, right now), I think the only way to differentiate your work from the mass of cellphone-generated work will be either through 1) limited access (you photograph something that nobody else can get access to), or 2) historical documentation (you photographed something that no longer exists and, therefore, falls under item #1).

    Will anyone be willing to pay for those gems? I have no idea.

    Andy Frazer

  2. As an art director and an amateur photog (see next post), I can speak to both sides of this issue. Of course the AD in me wants to find the best images at the lowest prices. iStock, however, doesn’t always fill my needs and I go to Corbis or StockFood. And there are plenty of occasions when I need to schedule a shoot with our friendly local pro, Paul Schraub. In this light, it seems to me that the photog who wants to make a living at submitting stock should take a hard look at what kinds of subjects and images are not being adequately supplied by the stock agencies. Kilpatrick’s comment quoted above is germane in this context. An amateur like me isn’t going to invest the necessary time to seek and/or generate really unique subject matter. Everybody gets lucky, of course, and stumbles across something show-stopping. But it seems to me that the pro would be absolutely dedicated to investing his or her time in seeking out those unique images. Because somebody *will* pay for them.

  3. A bit of perspective, which I hope does not come across as a ” I got it stuck to me by you guys, now it’s your turn.” sort of thing.

    I used to make a living as a studio-based commercial photographer back at a time when, if a client/art director/photo editor needed a photograph, they actually hired a photographer to create one. Imagine that.

    The market had its ups and downs, some ad budgets grew, some shrank, clients came and went, but, all in all, it was a good way to make a living.

    Then came the Reagan years and the emergence of the unbriddled Wall-Street-return-on-investment-era. In stepped the corporate bean counters and ad budgets became lean-and-mean. This was about the same time that stock picture agencies emerged as major players in the ad biz. No conicidence, I’m sure. Suddenly, or so it seemed, not only had ad budgets shrunk, but more and more of those budgets were going towards the purchase of stock photos.

    The effect upon the middle range ($1000-$2500 day-rate shooters) of commercial photographers was very significant. Many of them took a rather sudden interest in usage rights as a means to increase their income, something the commercial “superstars” ($3000-$5000+ day rates – remember, this is in 1980′s dollars) had been doing all along and something stock photo agencies were doing as well. Many a commercial shooter joined the ASMP – American Society of Magazine Photographers – an organization, which up to that point represented mainly the interests of magazine photographers.

    Stock shooters didn’t need to join the ASMP because they had the “protection” of their agencies.

    Upon hindsight, it is rather obvious that all of this copyright/usage right stuff – commercial and stock photography – was a gigantic bleeding thorn in the butt of the corporate bean counters – “We paid them to take the picture, why don’t we own it?” was a very popular question. One of the first attacks on copyright was that Work-For-Hire boilerplate began appearing on purchase orders.

    The rest, as they say, is history. The mid-level commercial studio shooter was devasted in the 90s. They dropped like flies – aided and abetted by stock photography shooters. I survived (barely) by shedding the studio overhead (renting one when I needed it) and developing a distinctive photographic style
    that couldn’t be purchased “stock” and concentrating on “specialty” markets- like food photography for clients needing photos that illustrate specific recipes or techniques.

    I never went into the stock photo market.

    in any event, I can sympathize with the plight of the stock shooter, although to be completely honest, the notion of “what goes around, comes around” has entered my head.

    PS – IMO, the “problem” that stock shooters never saw coming was the inevitible result of placing the protection of their photo interests in the hands of stock agency corporations. Better if they had organized into one big photographer-owned behemoth that ruled the marketplace. Power is the only thing corporations respect.

Comments are closed.