Who Calls the Shots on Your Shoots?

Photographers have less creative freedom today than they once did. In the days of what I call “unrehearsed photography,” photo editors respected the talent of shooters to produce quality images for their publications. No demanding art directors or so-called creative consultants looked over photographers’ shoulders to guide their inspiration.

Unfortunately, that era is gone — at least for stock photographers. Giant stock agencies no longer leave photo production to the whims of a single shooter. Time and production costs demand that they “get it right” the first time. And the process is sensitive to current trends and fads.

Shooting a commercial stock photo from scratch is now fairly mechanical. Here’s how it goes: A client comes to the stock photo agency with an idea for a photo for its new campaign.

“No, no, no,” the creative director of the agency says to the client. “Our research says that your idea will be out of style before the campaign is even launched. What you need is ‘image uniqueness.’ You want to separate yourself from the crowd and have a visual identity, a brand awareness that is unmistakably you. Our team can do this for you.”

The creative director then consults with his art director, who then assigns the task to a production staff, including a wardrobe manager, a cosmetic advisor, a scene location consultant, and a photographer. In this hierarchical scenario, the last team member does the grunt work and pushes a button.

In general, the aim for the stock agency is to produce a generic picture that can lend itself to several interpretations, that will “sell product,” that is trend-timely, within a budget that won’t exceed its shelf life, and that can be wholly owned by the agency so the image can be “authored” (manipulated) later for an extended life.

All of this can be reduced to an algorithm that eventually produces an image that is within budget and will be useable for the life of a contemporary stock photo — three years or less.

This is a complicated way of looking at stock photography, far removed from the unrehearsed photography of the last century. If you were wondering why so many of today’s stock images seem drained of spontaneity, you now have your answer.

[tags]stock photography, creative freedom, Rohn Engh[/tags]

Leave a Reply