Understanding Stock Photography as a Business
So, I picked this image on purpose, because it's a new image that I just took, and I like it. And it's also something that is very much a... What's the word I'm looking for? It's universal. So, the thing about stock imagery is, there's not a whole lot of resale value in complicated food. Some of it works, some of it doesn't. What you really want to be looking for is iconic food, things that are regional, or ethnic, that have resonance with particular people. And you also want things that are universal, like, cauliflower, or broccoli, or carrots, or soup, generally, chicken soup, or something. But the reality is that the simpler the image, and the more beautiful it is, the more likely it's going to resell. And the more complicated it is, especially convoluted, kind of, recipe work that end up doing. So my suggestion in that workflow, is when you're making pictures of a completed dish, that you know may not have resale value, take pictures of the component ingredients as you go, and then...
you have a battery of imagery that goes with your package. And you have a battery of imagery that you can use for stock resale. And here's the other great part of that, If you're workin' on a shared copyright, you don't have to share those pictures, because they're yours and you're not publishing them. So that's the other thing, is that you kill two birds with one stone, you're acting as a stock photographer, making your own work while your client is footing the bill for the overall shoot, and then you can always give them added value, by giving them a couple of those pictures. Outtakes, or seconds that you're not going to use for your own stock, but work for the package, you could send them those pictures, so now you're giving added value to your client, plus you're creating another revenue source for yourself. So it's a really smart way to do business, especially once your set is already there, and you recognize things that are simple, and beautiful, and work, that makes sense. Remember that stock is a volume business. If you don't get a lot of imagery in stock, you're not going to make money. You need to remember that the more you pour in, the more you're gonna get out. It is absolutely that kind of a business. And you're not just dealing with other photographers. You're also dealing with the people that are in your agency, that are also selling imagery. So you're competing against everyone. So not only does your imagery have to stand out, it has to be voluminous. There needs to be a lot of it. You need to be prolific to make money in stock. But also, and I said that already, you have to be aware of trends. Trends in the industry. When gluten free was hot, when vegan is hot, when whatever is hot at the moment, your stock agency, a lot of times, will send you requests, to say, "Hey, do you have any "mint chocolate chip ice cream in your archive?" And if you do, you send it to them, and hopefully they sell it. It's important to understand that food trends change rapidly, and if you're staying abreast of it, by watching the magazines, and looking at websites, and looking at cookbooks, you look at both style and content. You can add value to your workday and your workflow by creating imagery that fits into that landscape. And then, you have something else that's sellable. The other thing is, contracts and percentages. You need to be mindful that, again, you're partnering with somebody. A stock agency. And there are vary different ranges as to what kind of percentage they take on imagery. It's usually pretty high. It's usually pretty high, 50% or more. So, you need to be mindful of that, and not be put off by it, and that's why it's a volume business, because you're not making a tremendous percentage on the imagery. So the more you get out there, the more you can sell. But you also need to be mindful of what they're charging for your pictures. Because there're some agencies out there that are selling imagery at a dollar or two, or five, or 10, and you're getting 40% of that. And at the end of the month, or the end of the quarter, you get a check for $37, and your imagery is now overexposed. So, my experience with stock agencies, and I've been represented by five different stock agencies over the years, has been, it's important, ease of use. That's a big part of it. Is that if they make it hard for you to put photos in the system, or their technical standards are very rigid, you're not going to be able to get as many pictures up and into the site. That's a big part of it. The other part, like I said, is what they're charging for your imagery. If you feel that you're being undercut on that deal, because they're trying to sell volume work, because they have seven million pictures in their archive, you're not a priority for them, so you need to remember, maybe you don't want to put your images there. You need to understand that the web traffic that agency gets, will directly effect your profits. So if they are not driving a lot of traffic to their agency online, so brand names matter, right? My Stock is with Adobe right now, and that, one of the primary reasons I went with them, was because everybody knows who they are, even though it was a new agency. So it's important to understand that if you want exposure for your stock, the company that's reppin' it really matters. And then, the competition, not just the competition among people who have imagery in your agency, but other agencies out there. The web is just filled with imagery. It's everywhere. So you need to understand that if your imagery isn't going to stand out, so don't send things that you don't think have market value. If you look at it, and say, "That's a really good image. "I know that resells. "I gotta hotdog that is just gonna "blow it out of the water this summer." Get it out, and get it in the market. But also, look at the competition. And look at what other people are putting into stock. 'Cause there's an awful lot of bad photography out there. Especially in the food space, because there's a lot of people, who are not necessarily food photographers, who are taking food pictures, and putting them into stock. So, when I look through it, I'm like, "Well, that's not really competition for me." Because whoever's looking to buy that picture will never buy my picture. And then you also wanna see if that when you're shopping for a stock agency, if you feel that your photos fit into the landscape of what they have. And say, "Everything in here doesn't look like my work. "Either, I'll stand out, or I'll get ignored." and you have to make that calculated decision.
Give us a few names of some companies that you've worked with that you think are good.
Well, I've been repped by Redux, I've been repped by Adobe, I've been repped by StockFood America and Europe, and oh gosh, there's one other, I can't remember the name now. It's in conjunction with The New York Times. The thing is that my New York Times work, once it's published gets put into two other agencies. So, I get a shared copyright on my work, so I get a shared copyright back on the resale. So, it's not a tremendous amount of money, but every once in awhile there'll be a little check that pops up, and you're like, "Oh, that's nice, free money." So, you know, I've had good experiences with all of those companies, and some experiences that inhibited the growth of my stock collection with others. So it's just a matter of asking the right questions before you get involved. So, it's like, what kind of files can they send you? "Well we only want files that are uncompressed, "and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." And you go down the line, and you're like, "Okay, now I have to reprocess all my CR2s, "just to send pictures in? "Sorry, I can't work with you." Well, when I worked with Adobe, because of the fact that they are a software company, and I process all of my pictures with their software, they're like, "Yeah, just send us whatever. "JPEGs, TIFFs, doesn't matter. "CMYK, whatever, we'll take it." And then they work on 'em. Because they have it all built into that AI that just looks at the pictures, and adjusts everything, and puts it up on the web. It's amazing.
And what do you personally look for in a stock company?
Well, like I said, the ease of use, that was the first question, that was absolutely the first question is, "How easy is it for me to get my stuff up on your site? "What are you charging for my pictures? "What's my percentage?" Those three things, key. If you can't answer those three questions in the affirmative, then I'm not gonna work with you. That's pretty easy.
Hello. So ease of use, are you also able to, if you put an image on Adobe, can you put the same image on Redux?
That's a good question. Yes. Adobe is non-exclusive. So I can put those images anywhere I want. And I can actually put those images with another company that's repped by Adobe. So, like, Adobe reps entire agencies. So let's say I wanted to go with CanVanImages. CanVan's collection is in Adobe, but I can also sell it through CanVan themselves if I had an account with them. So let's say, because-- and then all of a sudden you're exponentially out to more websites, so, Adobe explained it to me this way, 'cause exclusivity with something that was very common in stock agencies up to a certain point, and what Adobe did by changing the model, was that they're looking to get value for their clients, they wanna get value for their photographers, and they're thinking about it in such a volume business way, that having the images anywhere, even if they're just taking a small piece, if it's going through multiple agencies, is worth it for them. So that's another, that whole ease of use thing, and the less restrictive it is, and that works really well. But that exclusivity is something you should ask about as well.
How much time? Do you upload 'em yourself, and if so, how much time do you put into the key wording? And do you go literal? Like that's cauliflower? Or do you also go into, like, that's loneliness? Or sadness.
Oh no, no, no.
Or things like that? (laughter)
That's awesome. I am going to start key wording my food that way from now on. I wanna see what happens. A little of both is the answer to that question. I will do some of the key wording myself, and then before those things go up on the web, the team, or the software, or whatever does additional key wording. And I usually keep it pretty literal. But the abstract idea, I like that as well. (laughter) (speaks with accent) This cauliflower is sad. (laughter)