The future of photography is in original, exclusive content.
That’s harder to achieve today than it used to be. When photography was still film, print and slide, no one could really copy you, as they could not see what you had shot. As digital distribution has become the standard, more and more photographers see your work online and say, “Hey, I can shoot that.”
So we’ve gone from rights-managed stock photography to royalty-free stock photography to microstock photography. The pricing of images has become inversely proportional to the volume created. The more images are created to illustrate an idea, the cheaper they are.
It’s clear that you don’t want to be playing in that end of the pool. So, in today’s market, how can you position yourself as a photography original — and reclaim the value of your ideas?
Here are 18 do’s and don’ts:
1. DO shoot commission work, not stock. The market for stock shooters is not there anymore. Not for pros, anyway. Shoot commission work only, and then put that in stock. Commission work can give you access to people and places that are not available to the common mortal. It will give you a chance to create original images. Why? Because if the images were out there already, your client would have bought stock instead of hiring you.
2. DON’T sell yourself short. Once you have that original content, sell it well and hard. Do not drop it in the dollar bin. Those images will be your calling cards — both for stock and for more assignments.
3. DO show emotion. Too many photographers, in an attempt to be as generic as possible in order to be attractive to the biggest market, create bland, lifeless images. Instead, be as emotional as humanly possible. The more your images generate emotion in viewers, the better.
4. DON’T offend. Go for emotion, but not shock value. If your images are offensive in any way, they will never be used for commercial purposes, and rarely for editorial. If you want to shock people, do it with beauty, talent and art. Beautiful sells — sometimes much better than sex.
5. DO think scarcity, not volume. The scarcer your work, the more valuable. You are not a factory, after all. Don’t try to be one.
6. DON’T confuse “exclusive” with “niche.” Shooting difficult subjects is not the same as being original. There are limited markets for shots of exploding volcanoes, deep underwater fish and rainforest insects. You can be original without resorting to niche markets.
7. DON’T shoot stock video. Clearly, we will soon see the same trends in video as we’ve seen in still photography. In fact, microstock beat traditional stock agencies in offering video. So forget it.
8. DON’T copy the work of others. If you have an idea, look to see if it has been done. If it has, drop it. Move on.
9. DON’T look to your stock sales report for ideas. Sales reports tell you what you’ve sold, not what will sell. It’s a sure path to mediocrity.
10. DON’T go to workshops for ideas. Go to workshops to learn how and what not to shoot. Learn to be a loner.
11. DON’T share or post your techniques. You will only be popular with those who have no imaginations. Like leeches, they feed on others’ knowledge.
12. DON’T ask for the opinion of other photographers — ever. If your idea is good, they will copy you. If it’s bad, they won’t tell you.
13. DON’T focus on equipment. Talent is not measured by the number of lenses or gizmos you carry. The less you carry, the more you can concentrate on your images.
14. DO un-learn the rules. Forget all the rules, regulations, obligations, conditions, and other “…ions” that are stuffed in your head. Each one is another rope to your creativity.
15. DO disconnect your computer. It’s more of a distraction than anything else — and can easily lead to being influenced by “group think” and tired ideas. Get a smart phone to check your e-mail.
16. DO hide your best work. Only your clients should see it. No one else.
17. DO work on the process, not the result. If the process is perfect, the result will be, too.
18. DON’T look for the “secret.” There isn’t one. That’s the secret.