Archive for October 2011

19 Oct, 2011 | Posted by: st

THE PHOTO BOOM -- John C. Dvorak: “Thanks to new advances in photography, the Golden Age of Imaging is upon us, but is threatened by societal issues.”,2817,2394664,00.asp?kc=PCRSS03079TX1K0000585

12 Oct, 2011 | Posted by: st

PHOTOGRAPHING THE PROTESTS. All of them. – Lauren Margolis: “People all over the world are unhappy, and they're taking to the streets to say so. That's a pretty obvious point. But the sheer volume of protests taking place simultaneously across the globe is truly staggering. We're lucky to have a front row seat for all of these protests -- there's literally a PhotoShelter member on the ground capturing each of them.”
PHOTO: Martin von den Driesch

05 Oct, 2011 | Posted by: st

Fifty+ Years of Shooting Stock

Then & Now

by Spencer Grant

Fourteen years ago I joined what seemed like the stock agency of my dreams.

Unlike any previous agent, this outfit didn’t just ask me to shoot what I liked – they sent out countless specific “assignments” passed on from their textbook clients, with precise specifications and deadlines like ready-money commercial work.

True, these assignments were speculative but their specificity made them click far more than random shooting: I’d say 50% versus 5%.

I quickly built my life around these assignments and in one notable year I did 401. I began making more stock photo money than I’d ever seen before and hoped this agreeable situation would go on indefinitely.

Silly boy. . . as if anything goes on indefinitely.

Things began to change. The agency’s dynamic, hands-on founder/honcho began to show her dark side as a jealous control freak who threatened to heave me out of the agency if I gave any of my work to other agencies although nothing in my contract forbade it.

My original enthusiasm began turning into surly bitterness as I referred to her as “Her Nibs.” Still, I was making good money so I just kept my head down and did the continuing assignments.


The end was inevitable and obvious. She was older than I was and soon she sold the business to a guy who knew nothing whatsoever about stock photography and probably thought he’d bought a turnkey business that would continue to make money without any help from him.

The loss of the old boss began to be felt. Yes, she’d been a nasty control freak but she’d also been the heart and soul of the agency and her loss was akin to disconnecting the locomotive from a moving train. I still make money there but I can’t depend on it any longer: For every good payment there are several for almost nothing.

Still, stock photography is my livelihood, my place in the world. I’ve adapted many times to industry changes.

In my forty years in the industry the most obvious change has been the rise of the well-capitalized “factory” companies that bought out dozens of personalized, hands-on stock agencies. The intimacy of earlier days isn’t quite gone but it has diminished.

Am I sorry? Sure, but it’s not that simple. The new mega-agencies reach a worldwide audience the smaller outfits could never match. Sure, they take big commissions but they make previously impossible sales too.

In any case, they’re here to stay.

While the era of thousands of speculative assignments may be over, the experience I gained from them lives on:

1 – Get as many educated suggestions as may be available. My old agency still makes some specific requests. Unlike most of the disillusioned photographers I take them seriously.

2 – I’ve finally broken the habit of believing that “wow” pictures have any special edge in stock sales. In the editorial world, stock photos have to support ideas extrapolated from already-written text. As a

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Picture researchers don’t even look at images at first -- images are researched using keywords. There can never be too many keywords!

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result, I shoot countless mundane subjects and shy away from subjects with difficult access and technical complexity. There’s no reason to think more effort means more sales.

– Ansel Adams I ain’t. Pictures beautiful in themselves rarely click for me. I leave the scenic stuff to others. I’m only good with real people doing real things.
4 – The big agencies often sell oddball subjects I would have avoided in the old days, so I try to be more fanciful.

5- I continue to take captions very seriously. With my newspaper background, writing who-what-when-where-how captions is a no-brainer. As my old boss at UPI used to say, “Another name for a picture without a caption is trash!”

6—Picture researchers don’t even look at images at first -- images are researched using keywords. There can never be too many keywords! Elsewhere in PSNotes I describe what I believe is the best keyword program... and picture leaves my desk without at least a hundred of them.

7—More than ever, I seek out picture ideas in the newspaper. There’s almost always something going on that would make a good picture and someone who’s already appeared in the paper might be inclined to cooperate. I always ask – yes or no, at least I tried.

8—I tell anyone I meet I’m a stock photographer and I consider their stock photo potentials. More than once a near-stranger has come up with a great picture idea.

9Finally, I’m determined to continue having fun taking stock photos. After all, there’s no guarantee any of them will sell. There’s no guarantee of some agency’s “floating” payments. There’s no guarantee my approach will produce a saleable image.

In short, there are countless reasons to forget about making money in stock at all, although after four decades I seem to have made it work. So if I’m going to get nothing else from my work I’ll still enjoy myself –the same way as I did when I fell in love with photography at age 12, half a century ago. That age-old enthusiasm is my greatest professional asset.

My very first agent advised me “Shoot whatever you want; it’s what you’ll do best.” Back when I was naïve and idealistic this approach produced many arty pictures that couldn’t possibly have sold but enough useful ones that clicked to keep me trying and growing.

The years have taught me a lot. Now I approach stock with an experienced eye for what will sell and I relish the whole process: research, access, shooting, post-production, caption, keywords, submissions, and (one hopes) – sales.

All this is great fun and still beats working for a living. That old advice is still good.

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Spencer Grant lives in Laguna Niguel, CA, He has lots of ideas.