One of the benefits of having a solid social media presence is being able to test and review photography-related products and services. Recently on Twitter, I was introduced to Keyword Smart, so in exchange for being able to use their product, I agreed to provide them with a review. In the past I’ve written about photo keywording strategy so that would be a good primer into how I approach keywording. So without further ado, let’s get into the review.
The goal of Keyword Smart and other photo keywording software is generally to help ensure that all of your important bases are covered in an efficient manner. Keywording images is a laborious task that many photographers do not enjoy but it is a necessary task if you expect to sell your photography effectively. Keywording not only allows clients to search through your images on their own, but also to help you as the photographer find your own images for urgent photo requests. Maybe if you are first starting off, you can remember the content within all of your images off the top of your head and be able to find them, but once you are more than a few years into your photography career, this will not be possible nor advised.
Keyword Smart is a web-based tool with an innovative approach to streamlining this process. It allows you to enter in your existing keywords into the bulk keyword box then it auto-populates those keywords into keyword taxonomy categories where it generates a master list of synonym and plural terms. You can then use the drop-down menus to drill further down into each keyword category and select additional keywords. These keyword categories are meant to ensure you have entered in keywords for all the types of terms you might not be aware that photo editors typically use such as “no people” or “action shot” for instance.
Cognizant that many photographers enter in their photo meta data within Adobe Lightroom, there is a plugin available that integrates with Lightroom. My workflow doesn’t currently involve keywording within Lightroom so I haven’t tried this feature but I think it sounds like a great feature for those who keyword within Lightroom.
Since Keyword Smart operates as a subscription, web-based tool, their keyword catalog is constantly being updated based on industry feedback and user-behavior. I think this is great method to eventually building up a very accurate, up-to-date keyword catalog. As is, they already claim to have over 130,000 keywords within their system at the time of this review. As the keyword catalog grows, I see this further speeding up the keyword process for photography industry professionals.
Now let’s take a look at the keywords I was able to produce. I chose three images of different genres in order to highlight diversity within the keyword sets.
Original Keywords: grizzly bear, bears, cub, cubs, baby, babies, alaskan brown bear, lake clark national park, cook inlet, alaska, usa, wildlife, nature, animal, ursus arctos horribilis, grass, meadow, grizzly bear, ursus americanus, bear, grizzly, grizzly bears, grizzlies, united states of america, cute, cuteness, standing, stands, stand, curious, curiousity, awareness, silver salmon creek, water
Keyword Smart Keywords: 1 animal, alaska, carnivora, lake clark national park and preserve, north america, summer, summertime, u.s, u.s.a, us, usa, united states of america, ursidae, ursus arctos, adorable, animals, baby, brown bear, brown bears, burly, coast, coastal, color image, colour image, cook inlet, cub, cubs, curiosity inquisitive, curious inquisitive, cute, cuteness, day, daylight, daytime, endearing, eye level shot, eye level view, field, grasses, grizzly bear, inquisitive, inquisitively, inquisitiveness, looking, lovable, loveable, mammal, mammals, meadow, natural light, nature, nature photography, no people, no person, nobody, one animal, outdoor shot, outdoors, outside, posture, remote, seaside, silver salmon creek, straight-on shot, upright, vertical, vertical format, wilderness, wildlife, wildlife photography
My grizzly bear cub image had 51 keywords when I originally keyworded the image. For the purposes of this review, I started from scratch when building the new keyword list from Keyword Smart, which ended up producing the 105 keywords listed above. Going through the keywording process via Keyword Smart, helped me to come up keywords that I had never considered previously. It’s impossible to know if having these additional keywords will lead to increased revenue at this point, but this will potentially give me more chances to sell my work which is all we can hope for with great keywording technique.
Original Keywords: bull rider; bullriding; danger; fear; dangerous; extreme sports; rodeo; 2011 frank bogert memorial rodeo; palm springs; southern california; usa; united states of america; inland empire; outdoor; running; san bernardino county; americana; culture; entertainment; rodeos; safety; prca; pro rodeo; palm springs convention center; arena; cowboy; cowboys; westfest
Keyword Smart Keywords: 1 animal, 2011 frank bogert memorial rodeo, americana, north america, u.s, u.s.a, us, usa, united states of america, action shot, action shots, afraid, animals, arena, bull, bull rider, bullriding, bulls, color image, colour image, cowboy, cowboys, culture, cultures, danger, dangerous, dangerously, entertainment, extreme sport, extreme sports, fear, fright, frightened, frightening, hazardous, horizontal, horizontal format, inland empire, one animal, outdoor, outdoor shot, palm springs, palm springs convention center, prca, pro rodeo, rodeo, rodeos, run, running, safe, safely, safety, san bernardino county, scared, scary, southern california, sports photography, terrified, terrifying, terror, unsafe, westfest
In the above rodeo image, I had 46 keywords when I originally keyworded this image last year. Through Keyword Smart, I generated a list of 91 keywords. Clearly this is helping me build a more comprehensive keyword list of important terms. These are not just filler keywords, there are some real descriptive terms that I’m getting out of this.
This photo of Pasadena City Hall is a new one that I don’t have existing keywords for but I did come up with 79 keywords for this example.
Keyword Smart Keywords: north america, u.s, u.s.a, us, usa, united states of america, architectural, architectural photography, architecture, building structure, building exterior, city hall, cityscape, clouds, color image, colour image, day, daylight, daytime, exterior shot, garfield avenue, government building, government buildings, historic landmark, horizontal, horizontal format, italian baroque dome, los angeles county, municipal building, natural light, no people, no person, nobody, outdoors, outside, partly cloudy, pasadena, renaissance architecture, road, roadway, san gabriel valley, sky, southern california, stormy, street, structure building, sunset, travel, urban
Overall: I have just scratched the surface of what can be done with Keyword Smart. In addition to the features I’ve already mentioned, there is the ability to edit your own taxonomy to fit your personal keywording style, which I like a lot. I intend to make heavy use of this feature which I believe will help take my workflow to the next level. I am frequently keywording images so any edge I can get on this, you can bet that I will take advantage of. Based on my communications with the owner, it’s clear that they are serious about building a quality product for photographers and art buyers, so I will wholeheartedly recommend trying out Keyword Smart.
Visit Keywordsmart.com for more information.
This article has been has circulating around the photography community the past couple days and has gained a lot of traction. I’d like to share it in it’s entirety.
Dear potential photo buyer,
If you have been directed to this page, it is likely that you have requested the use of an image or images for free or minimal compensation.
As professional photographers, we receive requests for free images on a regular basis. In a perfect world, each of us would love to be able to respond in a positive manner and assist, especially with projects or efforts related to areas such as education, social issues, and conservation of natural resources. It is fair to say that in many cases, we wish we had the time and resources to do more to assist than just send photographs.
Unfortunately, such are the practicalities of life that we are often unable to respond, or that when we do, our replies are brief and do not convey an adequate sense of the reasons underlying our response.
Circumstances vary for each situation, but we have found that there are a number of recurring themes, which we have set out below with the objective of communicating more clearly with you, and hopefully avoiding misunderstandings or unintentionally engendering ill will.
Please take the following points in the constructive manner in which they are intended. We certainly hope that after you have had a chance to read this, we will be able to talk again and establish a mutually beneficial working relationship.
Photographs Are Our Livelihood
Creating compelling images is the way we make our living. If we give away our images for free, or spend too much time responding to requests for free images, we cannot make a living.
We Do Support Worthy Causes With Images
Most of us do contribute photographs, sometimes more, to support certain causes. In many cases, we may have participated directly in projects that we support with images, or we may have a pre-existing personal relationship with key people involved with the efforts concerned. In other words, each of us can and does provide images without compensation on a selective basis.
We Have Time Constraints
Making a leap from such selective support to responding positively to every request we get for free photographs, however, is impractical, if for no other reason than the substantial amount of time required to respond to requests, exchange correspondence, prepare and send files, and then follow-up to find out how our images were used and what objectives, if any, were achieved. It takes a lot of time to respond to requests, and time is always in short supply.
Pleas of “We Have No Money” Are Often Difficult to Fathom
The primary rationale provided in nearly all requests for free photographs is budgetary constraint, meaning that the requestor pleads a lack of funds.
Such requests frequently originate from organisations with a lot of cash on hand, whether they be publicly listed companies, government or quasi-government agencies, or even NGOs. Often, it is a simple matter of taking a look at a public filing or other similar disclosure document to see that the entity concerned has access to significant funding, certainly more than enough to pay photographers a reasonable fee should they choose to do so.
To make matters worse, it is apparent that all too often, of all the parties involved in a project or particular effort, photographers are the only ones being asked to work for free. Everyone else gets paid.
Given considerations like this, you can perhaps understand why we frequently feel slighted when we are told that: “We have no money.” Such claims can come across as a cynical ploy intended to take advantage of gullible individuals.
We Have Real Budget Constraints
With some exceptions, photography is not a highly remunerative profession. We have chosen this path in large part due to the passion we have for visual communication, visual art, and the subject matters in which we specialise.
The substantial increase in photographs available via the internet in recent years, coupled with reduced budgets of many photo buyers, means that our already meager incomes have come under additional strain.
Moreover, being a professional photographer involves significant monetary investment.
Our profession is by nature equipment-intensive. We need to buy cameras, lenses, computers, software, storage devices, and more on a regular basis. Things break and need to be repaired. We need back-ups of all our data, as one ill-placed cup of coffee could literally erase years of work. For all of us, investment in essential hardware and software entails thousands of dollars a year, as we need to stay current with new technology and best practices.
In addition, travel is a big part of many of our businesses. We must spend a lot of money on transportation, lodging and other travel-related costs.
And of course, perhaps most importantly, there is a substantial sum associated with the time and experience we have invested to become proficient at what we do, as well as the personal risks we often take. Taking snapshots may only involve pressing the camera shutter release, but creating images requires skill, experience and judgement.
So the bottom line is that although we certainly understand and can sympathise with budget constraints, from a practical point of view, we simply cannot afford to subsidise everyone who asks.
Getting “Credit” Doesn’t Mean Much
Part and parcel with requests for free images premised on budgetary constraints is often the promise of providing “credit” and “exposure”, in the form or a watermark, link, or perhaps even a specific mention, as a form of compensation in lieu of commercial remuneration.
There are two major problems with this.
First, getting credit isn’t compensation. We did, after all, create the images concerned, so credit is automatic. It is not something that we hope a third party will be kind enough to grant us.
Second, credit doesn’t pay bills. As we hopefully made clear above, we work hard to make the money required to reinvest in our photographic equipment and to cover related business expenses. On top of that, we need to make enough to pay for basic necessities like food, housing, transportation, etc.
In short, receiving credit for an image we created is a given, not compensation, and credit is not a substitute for payment.
“You Are The Only Photographer Being Unreasonable”
When we do have time to engage in correspondence with people and entities who request free photos, the dialogue sometimes degenerates into an agitated statement directed toward us, asserting in essence that all other photographers the person or entity has contacted are more than delighted to provide photos for free, and that somehow, we are “the only photographer being unreasonable”.
We know that is not true.
We also know that no reasonable and competent photographer would agree to unreasonable conditions. We do allow for the fact that some inexperienced photographers or people who happen to own cameras may indeed agree to work for free, but as the folk wisdom goes: “You get what you pay for.”
One other experience we have in common is that when we do provide photographs for free, we often do not receive updates, feedback or any other form of follow-up letting us know how the event or project unfolded, what goals (if any) were achieved, and what good (if any) our photos did.
All too often, we don’t even get responses to emails we send to follow-up, until, of course, the next time that someone wants free photographs.
In instances where we do agree to work for free, please have the courtesy to follow-up and let us know how things went. A little consideration will go a long way in making us feel more inclined to take time to provide additional images in the future.
We hope that the above points help elucidate why the relevant photographer listed below has sent you to this link. All of us are dedicated professionals, and we would be happy to work with you to move forward in a mutually beneficial manner.
There are several stock photography “wants list” subscription services out there that send you daily photo requests via email. I’ve subscribed to several of them but dropped the paid one after only a year and half because the number of requests during the time I was a subscriber kept dwindling to a point where it wasn’t worth it to subscribe. During the time of my subscription, I made one calendar sale and had a few images considered for two covers. I broke even.
From what I’ve heard and seen, this used to be a common way to sell stock photos directly to new clients but almost pointless these days in my opinion since editors can find what they need online either through agencies like Alamy or on Google. So if you’re considering signing up for one of these paid services I’d suggest allocating your budget for another activity that can better get your images in front of buyers.
With the majority of image distribution taking place on the internet these days, photographers should take steps to identify their images. One of the most important things for a professional photographer is not only to register their images with the U.S. Copyright Office, but to also tag their files with photo metadata. This serves a number of purposes including auto-populating the data fields when uploading images to stock photo distribution sites such as Alamy Images and Photoshelter. But most importantly, when you distribute the image to a client, it identifies you as the copyright holder in addition to vital photo caption info. Many photo buyers deal with hundreds if not thousands of images per day you can’t expect them to remember who each image belongs to so it is advisable to include basic contact info such as your name and website within the image at the minimum.
A number of programs such as Photoshop, Lightroom and others allow you to enter in this data but for the purposes of this post, I will include screen caps from Photoshop CS4 because that is what I am most familiar with. If you haven’t done this before, you need to go to File < File Info within Photoshop to access these screens.
I am by no means an expert on this topic but most of these are meta data fields that I use regularly and they seem to fit within my digital workflow and current distribution methods. Though I have been doing this for several years, I wish I had known about this when I first started. There is a percentage of my image library that lacks adequate keywording, caption info, and contact info as a result. For photographers that have been selling images for longer than I have, I can only imagine how much work it would be to catch up on entering photo metadata. My suggestion would be enter in the metadata as needed, or to use a program like Lightroom 2 where you can batch large groups of similar images together.
When all of your image meta data is entered properly it makes it the rest of your work flow easier too. Check out my Downtown Los Angeles at Night photo in my Photoshelter Archive for example. All of the basic identifying info is there from my image ID#, name, caption and keywords. All I had to do was upload my files then batch select pricing profiles and place them into galleries then I was done.
I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic lecture this past Saturday that was hosted by the American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP) and Picture Archive Council of America (PACA). The featured speaker was Nancy Wolff who is an attorney that specializes in intellectual property law. There were quite a number of people packed into the venue which was a photography studio in Culver City. The audience appeared to consist of photographers, stock photo agents (including one of mine), publishers and filmmakers. I was told that that is what the difference between the ASPP versus the other photography trade organizations because it caters to everyone involved with in the photography industry not just photographers. I tried my best to take notes for those of you who might not have had the opportunity to attend. Keep in mind that I’m no legal expert but here goes:
- The event was sponsored by the Copyright Clearance Center and they wanted to promote their new image licensing platform called Ozmo. (I personally know nothing about this product or the organization so I have no opinions on this at the moment.)
- Nancy started off by listing several popular myths regarding photo copyright laws including, “If I remove my image after being served a notice, I don’t owe any money.”
- Copyright laws were founded to give incentive to creators to continue advancing the arts and sciences in the U.S. The incentive is exclusive rights to the work for the length of the author’s life + 70 years. For corporations it is the lesser of 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation. I believe this time period designation was established in 1978.
- Anything created 1923 is now part of the public domain.
- Works not protected by copyright law include anything created by the U.S. government. (I got the impression that this is not as black and white as it sounds.)
- Copyright laws were revised again in 1989 stating that copyright notices were no longer required to be displayed in order to claim ownership. This is purely voluntary but recommended. A proper copyright symbol goes like this – ©year, name.
- Freelancers by default own the copyright to their work. However if you are an employee (work-for-hire) then the employer owns the copyright.
- Allows for limited duplication of material for educational uses including criticism, news, teaching and research. A good example would be photocopied class handouts, short excerpts and quotes.
- Fair Use is not about merely choosing an image to illustrate a news story just because it might look appropriate alongside the words. The image must actually be the news story. (I’m trying to paraphrase this part.)
- Must be transformative. Not merely repackaging the work. Does it harm the creator in any way?
- Parody can be fair use such as the famous Annie Leibowitz picture / Vanity Fair cover of a pregnant Demi Moore being mimicked for the Naked Gun 33 1/2 movie poster.
Nancy proceeded to show more side-by-side comparisons of situations that claimed Fair Use.
- Social commentary can be Fair Use.
- Merely changing the medium is still an infringement because it is derivative works.
Most in the crowd seemed to believe that Shepard Fairey, creator of the Obama Hope poster, infringed on the AP’s photo by creating the poster without asking for permission. Nancy mentioned something interesting that when Fairey sued the AP, the AP countered by hiring the attorneys that had just defeated the Stanford University Fair Use Project in a recent case.
- Who is responsible if there is an infringement? The publisher, includes both companies and employees.
- One must show that the infringer had access to the original works. (I think this means that if the “infringer” has never seen the original work in question then it might not be an infringement and just merely coincidental similarities.)
- There is no hard and fast rule to determine “substantial similarities” as this is determined in court on a case-by-case basis. The judge will often compare two images then use that to decide if the case will go to a jury or not.
Nancy then showed an example of a photographer that sued an ad agency. The ad agency had contacted the photographer to use an image but apparently didn’t like the price so they went out and photographed their own similar version. The giveaway was the featured model in both had the same jacket on in both images carrying a briefcase. The photographer was rumored to be very happy with the settlement.
She then had a section about Scenes a Faire, which means that certain scenes or ideas can only be seen in a limited number of ways hence not being eligible for copyright infringement. An example would be photographing a well-known landmark in a public place such as the St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The more staged the original work however, the more likely it is to be considered an infringement.
- Why register your photos with the U.S. Copyright Office? You can’t get attorney’s fees waived if not registered. (This is one of many reasons to do so.) This can be done so now by electronic filing. Send thumbnails in large quantities marked as unpublished works. If the photo has already been published before filing, then mark as published works. Once an image is registered you never need to re-register it again.
- Avoid sending your registration via USPS because since 9/11 stuff just gets backlogged and lost due to anthrax scares. Send it via FedEx if you must.
- Internet Service Providers have a safe haven. When serving a take-down notice, you have to send to the ISP’s registered agent and give them proper time to address the situation? (Wasn’t quite clear in my notes.) You also have to identify the work in question, the location of where the infringement can be found, include either a physical signature or electronic signature on the document.
- The 1st Amendment offers much more protection for editorial uses including art, news, and exhibits. Commercial uses have much more limited 1st Amendment protection.
- A proper model release should contain the name of the model, date of birth and have a witness’ signature. This applies to the U.S. mainly because every country has their own laws. In some countries the model can decide at any time to invalidate your model release.
- Pets are considered property and require a release if they are well-known and has been exploited commercially in the past. (I think this is primarily to avoid brand confusion in the marketplace.)
- Buildings photographed from public areas do not require permission to publish commercially. Several property owners have tried to sue for trademark infringement such as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland suing a photographer for selling a poster of the city skyline. The museum lost because there was no obvious trademark apparent in the photo. Same goes for photos of the Empire State Building. There is no trademark confusion apparent.
Next they had a door drawing for three of her autographed books. I won the 3rd. For the record, I was planning to buy the book if I didn’t win it.
Question & Answer Session
- If a photo agency or an individual photographer wants to promote their own work are they allowed to use non-model-released photos in the promotional materials?
Nancy said there was not a lot of established legal precedent for this sort of situation. She thinks that if you have multiple images together in the promotional material then there is no confusion as to whether the model endorses your business. If you have a single photo depicted then it can more likely be questioned.
- Copyright doesn’t protect styles of photography. If you popularized photographing subjects on white seamless for example, then another photographer does the same idea then you can’t claim copyright infringement just because they used a similar style.
The PowerPoint presentation is available for download at the PACA website if you are a member.
Overall I would highly recommend attending a session like this if you are a professional artist or deal with intellectual property of any sorts. I learned new things and got some clarity on previously fuzzy concepts. You might think oh, law, boring academic stuff but this really was an interesting presentation and even entertaining at some points.
I personally think this would have limited use to buyers because only hardcore industry veterans would likely know enough to understand how this works. It is hard enough to get some photo buyers to understand the basic concept of image licensing to begin with. The plus side is that you can theoretically protect your copyrighted work a little better since the license would be embedded in the meta data. Given all of the Orphan Works b.s. that is happening in Congress, you can never be too safe.
Photoshelter’s payment and distribution options are pretty similar to LicenseStream’s but the difference is that the photo buyer can’t look for another photographer’s images on the site. This is a pretty big deal because whenever you send an instant license via Photoshelter you risk losing sales to other photographers if they decide to browse the Photoshelter home page out of curiosity. On the LicenseStream home page, there is no such site-wide archive search.
If you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, check out my LicenseStream gallery.
Recently Photoshelter re-launched an updated version of their archive service. I have been with them for nearly a year and a half now am pleased with the updates. Among the cool features are widget-based slideshow galleries and licensing options that first appeared in the Photoshelter Collection. What I am most happy about though is that they finally adopted a suggestion that I made when I first joined and have inquired about several times.
Previously, the individual image pages would have a title like, “RW4986.jpg” on the internet browser. This was a problem because my images would show up on Google occasionally and have that listed as the webpage title. How does a title like that make someone want to click on the link? Not to mention that if the photo was ranking despite not having a good title tag then imagine what would happen if it actually had a relevant title tag. But now with the re-launch, my captions are in the title bar of the browser.
More than anything, what this says to me is that Photoshelter is serious about continually improving their product and doing what is best for photographers.
This is probably the most commonly asked question out there by people interested in selling their work. The short answer to this is “none of them” if you have to ask someone else this question. By none of them, I mean that if you don’t have a clear plan for what you hope to accomplish and already have a basic knowledge of who the players are in stock photography then you should hold off until you figure it all out. If you don’t have a vision for your own business / career then how could anyone else know for you?
There are other issues that should be answered before this comes up as well. What are your long-term goals? Is your work appropriate for stock photo sales? Who do you think will use your photos? How will you reach these people? Do you have the work ethic and commitment to do the mundane stuff day-in and day-out?
I’ve been pretty busy as of late, but I’ve been wanting to test some new business strategies. Here is one of them:
I’ve been ranking highly on the search engines for things like “environmental pictures“, “environment pollution pictures”, “photos of environmental issues”. Currently this month, I’ve received over 100 searches for these terms and nearly 1,000 views for this page alone so I was thinking of ways to capitalize on this traffic. As you know, environmental topics are at the forefront of the news these days and will increasingly continue to be so I’m thinking that this could be a great opportunity.
If anyone has any opinions about this, I would appreciate if you would fill out this poll.
Based in the quaint fishing village of Seward, Alaska, photographer Ron Niebrugge and his wife, Janine, travel for up to six months out of the year photographing extensively throughout the Western United States. Niebrugge also has an MBA degree from UC Irvine, so let’s find out what he has to say about the business of photography.
Many professional photographers like to say that professional photography is 90% business and 10% photography. Since you have an MBA degree, in which ways did having this business education help you to get where you are now?
You know, that is an interesting question. I think it helped in a few ways. First, I think I may approach the business with broader, big picture perspective, more so then I might have otherwise.
I believe that one of the best things that my education has provided me with is confidence. Growing up in a small Alaska town, I kind of felt like the rest of the world was way ahead of us, and knew all this stuff that I didn’t. After obtaining a graduate degree and working in the business community for a few years, I began to realize that my business skills, abilities and knowledge were on par with others. Really we are all in the same boat. Before I might have looked at a Getty and Corbis with awe but now I realize that even these giant stock agencies are full of people that are trying to find an edge in a competitive industry, just like myself.
There are some photographers out there that dream of having a wife run the photo business while they handle the photography, while others would probably fight like cats and dogs if that were to happen. What is the secret to maintaining a successful business partnership with your spouse?
I think we both had some apprehension when it came to trying to work together. Most of my photographer friends have a spouse with a full-time job. This is nice for them because it does provide some financial security and maybe medical coverage. I’m really glad that we didn’t have to go this route because now we are able to travel and see so many amazing places together.
I think the secret is – we have a very distinct division of responsibility in areas where we could potentially have a conflict. One area that comes to mind is pricing. Frankly, I’m too attached to my images so I tend to be terrible at pricing. Whereas Janine really does a great job of negotiating licenses. So we have a deal that I never ever price an image. I can be very personable and enjoy visiting with clients, but when it is time to talk price I hand the phone over. This has really worked out well.
In other areas, we can share responsibilities without any problem. For example, we will both work from the same list when we adjust images, keyword, etc… This stuff we can do together without issue. We will often bounce ideas off each other or consult with each other about an image adjustment – “is this too much saturation?” that kind of thing. I think this makes us both better.
By the way, Janine doesn’t have any desire to be a photographer. That might be a good thing. I could just picture us coming across a wolverine and both racing for the telephoto at the same time!
We keep hearing about how the stock photography industry has been changing for the worse over the past few years due to an increase of images from digital cameras and how amateur photographers are de-valuing the art form by giving images away for pennies. Sounds like a modern-day Economics 101 case study. So what advice what you give to other photographers when it comes to getting adequate compensation for their work?
We are having our best year yet and have had a two of our largest individual sales ever, so I try not to get too wrapped up in all the industry talk. I think there have always been lots of people losing money and struggling with photography just that the Internet made it easier for them to be heard.
At one point in college back in the 80’s, I thought seriously about trying to pursue photography as an occupation. I was told back then that it was extremely competitive and very difficult to make a living as a photographer, so I didn’t do it. Today, all you hear about is how great it was back in the 80’s and 90’s!
I think a lot of people don’t want to spend the time and effort necessary on marketing, so they take the easy way out and turn to using royalty-free agencies. I think this can be a mistake. Once you create the perception that you are a source for cheap images, it can be hard to shake that reputation. Not to mention once you sell an image as royalty-free, it can’t ever be marketed in any other rights-managed model – not if you are ethical. Had I gone down that route when starting out, I wouldn’t be able to earn a living with photography today.
I’m starting to notice some backlash against the royalty-free licensing model by some of the better customers. They just don’t have time to try to find that one gem in the endless sea of royalty-free images. It is worth it for them to pay a little more and have someone who can provide the research, post potential images to a viewing platform, and provide quick service. For many buyers, time is money.
You have an interesting photo blog that is updated almost daily. Would you consider this to be a vital part of your business?
Another good question. So many people nowadays have a blog so the benefit has definitely been diluted. I have a feeling many of them will eventually go by the wayside because it is much more work than most people realize.
I don’t think it is a vital part of my business given the amount of time that I spend on it. There are probably many more vital things I could be doing but there are some search engine benefits. It is also a way to keep in touch with some of our valuable clients. A number of them have mentioned to me that they do drop by to see what we are doing from time to time. We have even made sales of images captured while traveling thanks to the blog. These are images that wouldn’t have appeared on our regular site for months. So there are some benefits.
The blog can be a time burden at times without a doubt, but I have actually found it to be fun and rewarding. I get lot of very appreciative emails. I used to spend time each day answer the same questions in emails over and over – now at least those efforts can be shared with others.
I should add that I’m a terrible writer and have never enjoyed writing before starting my blog two years ago. (I’m glad that you are helping me edit the responses I like that blogging has forced me to work on this personal weakness.
Other than Seward, where would you recommend a first-time visitor to Alaska to go?
It’s hard to decide where to go because Alaska is so large but that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion.
I love Kenai Fjords National Park, so I think Seward is a must because it is practically right next door. Plus, it is about one of the easiest places to visit in Alaska.
I also recommend first time visitors to go visit Denali National Park. This will expose you to an entirely different ecosystem and will give you a nice variety of coastal rainforest, interior mountains, tundra and boreal forest.
A trip to where I grew up in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park is always rewarding, as would a bear viewing trip into Katmai National Park, or Lake Clark National Park. Alaska has 19 National Parks / Monuments and numerous State Parks, so it can be tough to choose – I haven’t even been to all the National Parks!
For an older, less mobile or adventurous visitor, you really can’t beat an Alaskan cruise. It is an easy way to see some amazing country in complete comfort.
Any photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
Nothing too exciting. The last two years we have really had a heavy travel schedule that has kept us out of the office for well over 200 days each year. We may spend more time in the office this year, and address some of those things we never have time for. Having said that, we will probably take at least a short trip to the Southwest this fall, and maybe a two to three month trip this winter.
To see more of Ron Niebrugge’s photography, visit his website: www.wildnatureimages.com
Professional agricultural stock photographer, inga spence is based in Northern Nevada. Having specialized in this niche for several decades, Spence has successfully evolved along with the industry. Let’s get her insights on the evolution of stock photography.
Did you have an interest in the agriculture industry prior to taking up photography, or were there other reasons for specializing in this niche?
I was definitely interested and attracted to ‘Agriculture’ prior to getting involved in photography… so I felt quite comfortable working in this field.
There’s been a lot of griping from pros that have seen licensing rates drop significantly over the past five to ten years. How has this impacted the way that you approach the business?
I feel that the main reason that licensing rates dropped is because certain large agencies have reduced their rates considerably, not considering the photographer. If there was a cohesive approach on this issue, the rates would stay the same, or should increase. Considering how the cost of equipment and travel expenses have risen, not to mention that these agencies are now dealing with digital files and their cost of converting 35mm is no more. (In other words, agencies should have better commission rates for the contributors)
You’ve spent many years to build up a significant library of images in both the 35mm and digital formats. Producing a body of work like this surely doesn’t come without costs. So what is your opinion about aspiring professional photographers that believe that a good way to get ahead is by giving images away for free in exchange for a photo credit?
Certain photographers are willing to ‘sell/give away’ at any cost not realizing that the end result will also hurt them in the future… degrading the whole profession… tearsheets are an item of the past. I believe that photo buyers don’t really look at credits. It’s the image that counts.
Should hobbyists care about valuing their work even if they have a day job to pay the bills?
YES, definitely. Many a great and present ‘professional photographers’ started photography because they enjoyed it. If the shoe was on the other foot, the hobbyist most likely would feel different. Many pros are still working other jobs in order to follow their dream…
Any photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
After some 20+ years in agriculture, photographing worldwide (but not completely limited to that specialty). I am really interested to become more diversified. But agriculture will always be a part of me…
I appreciate the opportunity to express my feelings.
Professional outdoor adventure and lifestyle photographer, Sherri Meyer is based out of the historic, Sierra Nevada Foothills gold mining town of Auburn, California. Having access to the Sierras as her backyard, she has photographed a variety of adventure sports such as kayaking, marathon running and off-roading. Here are her thoughts on the current state of the stock photography industry:
I noticed that a number of your images appear to be of the baby-boomer generation. From what I have read, this is a category that is in demand and under-photographed so was it a conscious business decision of yours to photograph this demographic?
The main reason I photograph “Baby Boomers” is because I am one and most of the people I know are too. Some of them have become regular models for my photography. But, it is also a fact that photos of this generation are of high demand and in low supply. That is the other reason why I focus mainly on the “Boomer” generation. The “Baby Boomer” generation is the largest segment of the population. So why is there such a low supply of photos of them? Go figure! By the way, according to the publishing industry, you are also considered a senior if you are 50 plus. Photos of seniors are also of high demand and in low supply.
From a business perspective, what would you like to photograph that you haven’t already?
I would like to Photograph for REI and Title Nine. I would love to have my attractive and fit “Baby Boomer” models featured in their catalogs. Title Nine does use women of all ages in their catalogs, but REI seems to focus on children and models in their 20′s and 30′s. I really think they are missing the boat by not featuring older models in their catalog also. I would like to change that. Since the “Baby Boomer” generation is the largest segment of the population that means they also spend the most money for products [and typically have the most disposable income.] Therefore, they also deserve to be part of their marketing program! I would also like to do some food product photography. Every month, I pick up the Raley’s “Something Extra” magazine where I shop. It’s a free publication they put out for their customers. It’s full of recipes, accompanied with outstanding food photographs. I love looking at the photos and thinking that is something I would like photograph. Also, one of my sisters photographed food years ago, for the natural food company she and I worked for. I always admired her work. That may be where it all started.
Business reasons aside, what would you like to photograph that you haven’t already?
Cowboys. I have always been attracted to photographs of cowboys. I have stayed at a dude ranch and photographed cowboys, as well as other activities that go on at a dude ranch. I have also photographed rodeos and cowboys performing various other ranch duties. But, what I would really love to do is go on and photograph a real cattle drive. I would also love to photograph singer/songwriters Emmy Lou Harris and Jimmy Buffett, two of my all-time favorites.
When dealing with a client directly, is there a minimum price that you set for negotiations?
Absolutely. Our fees are negotiable; however our minimum fee for any usage is $150.00.
When a potential client inquires about the use of an image and claims to have no budget for photos, there are some amateur photographers out there that are willing to give the client unlimited use of the image for free in exchange for a credit. They generally believe one of two things: 1. it will lead to a higher paying transaction in the future, 2. they only care about seeing their work published so they can brag about it. How do you feel about this?
I don’t think anyone should give their work away for any purpose, period. If your work is good enough to use for free, then it’s good enough to charge for! Richard, this question really hits my hot button. I’m giving you my short answer to this question for now, but I would love to write more in a future post.
Without naming names, tell us about a client from hell type of story.
I have worked with more than one client from h**l and they all have something in common. They have no respect! The three that come to mind were back in my earlier days and they were all regional, low paying markets. One of them was a brand new magazine. The editor knew nothing about working with photographers. I had to educate him about everything. Then, when one of his employees left on bad terms, she left with a CD of my images. Who knows where they ended up? I had another editor lose 4 of my [slides.] After contacting him several times, I managed to get all but one back. One of them was “nowhere” to be found until I sent him a bill for $1500.00. The next day, it was found. Amazing isn’t it? Then, there was the client that lost a whole submission consisting of 40 slides. I billed him also for $1500.00 per image. Soon thereafter, the images were recovered. I didn’t stop there, however. I did get compensated for the inconvenience of it all. The biggest problem with this type of client is they get treated the same way a good paying respectful client gets treated.
I noticed that you recently switched from the Photoshelter Archive to hosting your own Lightbox photo archive. What factored in your decision to do so?
There are a couple of reasons why I chose to go with Lightbox Photo over PhotoShelter for archiving my images. First, I wanted to have my images on my server rather than someone else’s. It’s more expensive to use Lightbox and there is a huge learning curve to setting up the galleries, but the benefits are worth it. I feel like I have a lot more control of my images, I’m getting more traffic and uploading images is much faster. Don’t get me wrong. I love PhotoShelter. I think they are one of the “best bangs for your buck” out there. I do still use their basic service and I plan to contribute to the new PhotoShelter Collection (PSC) very soon.
Any photography business announcements or personal projects that you would like to tell us about?
I don’t really have anything in the hopper right now, but there are a couple of things I would like to do down the road. I would like to publish a coffee table photography book featuring photos of… We will keep that a secret for now. Also, I would like to teach photo workshops and maybe do a little consulting. I did teach a few classes a couple of years ago which included a photo workshop through the adult education program here in Auburn.
Thanks Sherri. You’ve provided some great insights for the rest of us to ponder.
See more of Sherri Meyer’s work at: http://www.sherrimeyer.com