Photographer Panel: Staying Relevant
Hey everybody, welcome to Creative Live. This is our wrap-up of Photo Week 2017. So happy you're here, happy you're here in this live studio audience, and hello, internet, my name is Mike Hagan, I'll be hosting our wrap-up show tonight, our panel on staying relevant in the photo industry. With me tonight, we have three prominent, awesome photographers, who I've had the opportunity to know, get to know this week. We've got Clay Cook, Ian Shive, and Michael Clark, and in about two or three sentences, tell the world about you, if you could. Clay why don't you start, and tell them who you are and what you do.
Okay, I'm Clay Cook, I'm an editorial and portrait photographer based in Louisville, Kentucky. I said Louisville, not Louisville. And I am, I shoot for a lot of magazines, and I have the fortunate opportunity to travel all over the world, and shoot for a lot of various NGO's on the ground, and very blessed to do it.
Great, I'm Ian Shive. I started as a nature and landscape...
photographer, and then moved into starting my own agency. So, I'm the CEO and founder of Tandem Stills and Motion. We represent about 250 photographers, worldwide, and we do a myriad of projects. We've done books and films, and photography and assignments all happening in the outdoor marketplace. It's a very rewarding job, and I love it every day.
My name is Michael Clark. I'm an adventure, sports photographer, based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I've been shooting for about 21 years. I started as a rock climbing photographer, and then started branching out into every other adventure sport I could get access to. I shoot for a really wide variety of clients these days, mostly commercial clients. Everything from big wave surfing, base jumping, wind suit flying, whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, climbing of all forms, rock and ice climbing, mountaineering. So I'm super excited about the adventure, outdoor world, and passionate about what I shoot.
Right on, so tonight our purpose is really to talk about the state of the industry. Where's the industry at? Where's this going? How do you stay relevant? So we're gonna talk more about the business side of things, rather than our vision, or our technique, and I'll give some Q and A here for a little while, and then later on, we'll open up to questions for the live audience, and questions from the internet. So, starting out, and there's no real form to this, where do you guys feel like the industry is going? Where do you see the industry going over the next few years?
I'll start off. I think it's a very exciting time for photography, because everyone is shooting photography. The biggest thing you have to pay attention to, is how to be unique, and how to stay above the noise. So I see photography going and transforming, in a lot of ways. But I think that, I'm pretty secure that photography will always be necessary. Photography or something visual will always be there. So I think that it's like Nigel said earlier, it's the golden age of photography. It's just how you adapt to it, really.
I would agree, I think it's a great time to be in photography. I think with the digital age, really ushering in just huge, new, volumes of needs, from social media, to how people share and experience stories, it's rapidly changing. It almost feels like it's still accelerating, in many ways. The photo industry has always changed, and I think that for so long, I've always heard stories about the industry declining, and the opportunities aren't there. I think, as you say, the opportunities are not only there, I just think they're evolving, but I think there's more than ever before. And we're not going to consume less content in the future. So I think the role of the photographer, and the still image, too. Everybody talks about motion, maybe having an impact, and pulling frames from it, and so on, and there will that, but I think the role and what photography communicates, will always play a very powerful and important place for us.
Michael, where do you see it going?
Adding on to that, I'd say that technology, is amazingly advancing even more and more rapidly, every year, and so not only are there new clients, there's lots of clients. There's more photographers than there's ever been, there's more pictures being taken than there's ever been, and thankfully it's a wider range of people taking pictures. Gender-wise, racially, obviously you see us three up here, and that's not representative of the entire photography world out there, and that's great that we have more voices, speaking, and showing, adding their voices to the array of images out there. I think the technology's allowing us to do stuff we've never been able to do before, which does allow us to stand out from the pack, and get above the noise. As I said in my talk yesterday, I think there's always gonna be room for talent, and for amazing work. Even on Instagram these days, there's an amazing array of work, from both amateurs and professionals.
Yeah, being a photographer, I've been a photographer for on 20 yearsish now, and starting out back in the 90's, I kind of felt like, oh yeah, I can do this. There aren't that many doing the Galen Rawell type of thing, he was my early kind of high point mark, and thought, I can do this. But man in the last five years, the market has just proliferated with photographers, so do you guys find the number of photographers out there, to be an impediment to your success? Or do you find it to somehow make your success even better?
I don't think it's an impediment. I think if anything, we have a lot of new perspectives coming in, and I think that's always rewarding. If you truly love photography, and what it is, then I don't think it has to always come from you. I love the art of photography, and seeing other people's images, and they don't all have to be perfect tens to be enjoyable. And so, I always liked seeing that. I think from a competitive standpoint, the bar of entry is lower than it has ever been before. If you have a phone, which 80 to 90% of the world already does, you're probably already moving towards shooting professional quality images. We were just talking to editors this week, who ran their first cover from an iPhone. So I think it's changing, it is reducing some opportunities in revenue, because you have just a huge, massive, hundreds of millions of images flooding the marketplace. So for me, coming from the stock photography world, where I think probably some of the biggest changes are most noticeable, I do think it's had an impact. At the same time, to Michael's point, content is king. Great talent really always stands out, and despite seeing all these cameras, and all these people everywhere taking pictures, I don't see that much work that I'm like, wow, and it stops me. And so I think the role of the visual storyteller, will always remain the same, because of talent.
So Michael, you've been doing this for what, 20 years or so? And have you found that you've had to up your game, from when you started to where you're at now?
Michael's game has always been up.
Yeah, your game has always been up.
Definitely, I mean when I started out, I was creating, occasionally I got lucky. It's a constant learning cycle, and I think you've got to be constantly learning. But when Instagram came along, not to go back to Instagram, the love-hate relationship with Instagram but, the one great thing about Instagram is, as a pro, you see your peers' work, and all the amateurs that start following you, or that you're following, and it's so good at like, wow, it's pressure, it's like, I gotta push my work way farther, and to make it stand out. And that's not just because I want to do that, it's because if I want to eat five months from now, I've gotta do that.
The mortgage calls.
Exactly. And it's fun, it's an exciting time for photography, because there is a lot of middle ground work, but there is a lot of really high end work.
Clay, you've been doing this since 2011. Have you seen any changes in that, I call it that relatively short period of time?
Yeah, I think social media, the plane of social media has definitely changed, from where I first started. I definitely have seen the rise of photographers come up, but for me I just let it motivate me more than anything else. I am lucky enough to empower a lot of photographers, all over the place, and I often see photographers that I just think are way better than me. So I think that social media is powerful enough to let it motivate you, and that's what I do, is I see these up and coming photographers, like I gotta to do better, how do they like that? I gotta do it better. And so I just kind of like take that as an inspiration more than anything else and keep pushing myself and learn to adapt as much as possible.
Yeah, I think fear and self-loathing plays a big part with us photographers, as we see Instagram and we see Facebook. I know a lot of you in the audience today, we're all looking at Instagram feeds of these other people, and we're like, how did they do that, I'm a pro, I should be able to do that. I've never done that. How do you guys deal with that?
I know I need a headlamp. That's what I've learned. I don't know.
I mean, yeah there's quite a few photographers that I consider, that I look up to. It will send me in that world of, I'm just so bad. Deep depression. Again I kind of let it just, once I come out of that, I let it motivate me, and I'm like, it's a challenge. I challenge myself. Look in the mirror, I'm like, you've gotta do this, and you set goals, and you plan out what you're gonna do.
The goals, I think that's the big part of it, right? Are setting goals, for each of you, is that a big part of your business plan? Michael?
Definitely. I've got a five-year plan that I just updated a couple of years ago. Every year I've got a new plan for that year, that if I'm being good and have time, I'll actually go down and like, month to month, be like this is what I need to do to achieve these goals. It's not just sales goals, it's like creative goals, personal life goals, that kind of stuff, as well.
Just so we can get a little view into Michael Clark's brain, what would be like one creative goal that you have for the next few years?
I feel like I need to shoot more video. I've lost jobs because I didn't have as robust of a video catalog on my website, as some other photographers, which is totally fine, it just is what it is. And I have concentrated on stills more in the last year, and I shot video early on in the adventure sports world but kind of slagged off on that. I don't know if that's a creative thing, but that's just a hole or weakness I see, that I need to plug up. Creatively, I'm constantly thinking, as I'm sure all of us are. Like, how can I create something that's never been done before? That is always in my mind. Like, using new technology, or, hanging off a cliff upside down 3000 feet off the ground, whatever it may be, how can I do something that's just gonna really be, newsworthy?
Yeah, we were talking about that with your photograph at Smith Rocks, and how you'd seen this climber on this specific climb in the past, and you're like, I can do that, but, I can do that better, always trying to up the bar.
It was better, but it's different.
Humble, humble there, humble.
There's 88 keys on a keyboard, yet we keep getting new music.
And so, to me I think photography is very much the same, it's a creative process that can be reshaped and reshifted, constantly, and as trends and other things evolve, then it will go with it, too, just like music does. I think they have a lot of similarities in general, both in their approach, their style, and in the sense of ingenuity that's required to be successful.
Two thoughts are going in my mind right now, and I think I'll go down this path, so Ian, in your wheelhouse is the video world. You've really spent a lot of time the last few years dedicating your business and your career towards video production. Do you think that photographers in general need to be focusing on video?
Not in general, and there's a reason why, because it is a new art form that may not be something you enjoy. I've always taken the position that you have to first love what you do, to be good at it. And so, for me, video came as very organically, and as an extension of my desire to share and tell stories. And so, I think from a business perspective, as Michael said, I think you're potentially leaving a lot on the table by not doing it, you're definitely going to be limiting your possibilities in the future. At the same time, if you don't enjoy it, and you don't like it, then find another way to patch that hole and bring in that revenue. But assuming that you do, and there are so many similarities to video, as still photography, from composition to story, it can be an incredible, incredible tool. When we launched Tandem seven years ago, it was Stills and Motion, and licensing, and so there were these two channels, and it was way too early. I was having this conversation earlier today with somebody, about how we were just so far ahead when we were trying to launch the motion thing, but then because it was too early, we didn't stick with it as well as I think we could have. And now, every day, there's not a day that goes by we don't get a request at our agency, for a motion clip, or an editing package, or something like that. And I think it will be a pillar of revenue for photographers.
Clay, in your business you do a lot of editorial work, for magazines, publications, and fashion. Are you seeing clients requesting video?
I am, I'm seeing clients request behind the scenes video too.
A lot of BTS?
Yeah, which is interesting, an interesting dynamic. So I've had a few clients that, you get in the magazine world, and people love to see behind the scenes. They like to see the how-to, the creation behind stuff, so a lot of times I'll contract a cinematographer, or I'll bring in the DP or something to take control over the behind the scenes facet of the photo shoot. On top of that, I partner with a lot of, namely a company called Natives Films that does production, and motion production, documentary films, and so I partner with them on doing the still side of--
Oh on the still side. Not as a director role?
No no, on the still side, along with them on a lot of their travel stuff, but in the editorial world I'm seeing a lot of that sort of motion play a role into the still photography more and more.
So, how about this? I'm thinking about the video side of things, I'm thinking about technology, and I'm thinking about this convergence of technologies. Now all of our DSLR's can shoot video and stills, our phones, we can shoot video and stills. I see every single week on the internet, I see a comparison between the iPhone, and the Red. I see all of this stuff. And so my question is, is how much do photographers, who maybe are just starting out in the business, need to worry about the highest, top-end, technology, versus how much time do they need to spend on developing their vision and telling a story?
What would you encourage folks to focus on?
From the motion side, when you buy a camera, let's say you can afford the $35,000 camera, that does 8K or 6K, whatever it is, you've got probably twice that in post-production costs. And so I think a lot of people, unlike photography, where we could go and say we're gonna by the best camera, and the best lenses, and whatever the best may be, and you're good. You have a computer, you do some post-processing, but for the most part, there's a finite limit to the expenditure somewhere. We always find money to spend, but with motion, I always joke that our post-production bay is a black hole, because every time we ingest footage, and we're trying to do things, there's so many costs associated with managing it, storing it, uploading it, shipping it, all of those things, it's just much more cumbersome. And so, you have to ask yourself, the first thing is, what is the end product? Where do I see it going? If it's gonna be on the web, I got a red case for my iPhone, I call that my Red. Let's just go and shoot the (muffled).
The plastic cover.
Exactly. It's just a plastic cover. And maybe that will do the job. It really just depends on your goals, but I think story development, is paramount, and I always liken it to the kid with nothing but a webcam on the top of the laptop, who's got 15,000,000 views, and it's because he created compelling content, that people can relate to. It doesn't have to be the best. It becomes the best when the marketplace requires it, like if we're doing a movie, and it needs to be at a certain resolution, or a television show. But you'll know what dictates it by where the end product will ultimately end up.
I think you know, because I've shot all of my video stuff on Red cameras, which are great, but like you say, they add not only expense, but the amount of expertise you have to have to actually make that footage look as good as it can come out of a DSLR, and it can look way better than a DSLR, but you have to have extreme expertise to make that happen. So in some cases, if you buy the super expensive camera, you may have lower quality footage, because your color is not as accurate, or this or that's not quite out, and it might be 8K, but it won't necessarily look as good, as what you may get out of a less expensive rig.
Which makes the bar of entry that much more difficult, which means that video is one of the last bastions of visual artists to not be flooded by, to not have a flooded marketplace the way still photography has become, because it is a higher level of entry at the highest end.
Well, one of the things that they're talking about, and one of the things I want the audience to recognize, is that all this week, in the classes, you've heard all of us photographers talking about story, and how important story is to your image-making, and we need to take that to heart as photographers, that it's not always the sharpest photo, it's not always the most expensive camera, or this specific lens, it's always what's behind it, and the story behind it. So I just encourage everyone to work more on your story, and less on the technical stuff. Camera's just a tool.
It's all about this and this, mind and eye.
Mind and eye, that's cool. Well, let's talk about where the industry has been from a people standpoint. So in the past, the four of us have done a lot of outdoor travel type of photography. Have you guys seen the, I would say in the past, it's been more of a male-dominated world. Is that shifting? Do you guys see it shifting more, more women being involved with outdoor adventure type photography? Are you guys seeing that happen these days?
Yeah, I think in general, the outdoor world has always been inclusive. And that's what I love about our market. It doesn't feel like it's exclusive, or members only. The outdoors are approachable and available to all. And that means whether you're an athlete, or a photographer. I think that you see those people enjoying everything and sharing it with photography. We were talking about there's a lot of the photo editors we work with have traditionally been female, and so you see a lot of female photo editors, almost exclusively, a lot of our buyers are. My entire team is actually run by women, as well, at Tandem, and I don't know why it is, it just sort of is that way, but we have a number of incredibly talented female photographers. I think just in general as the world just becomes more of an equal place to be, that you have just more improvement in dialog and communications in our profession. So it's great. It's awesome to see it happening. It's definitely happening, I think.
Clay, in your world, in the fashion world, are you seeing kind of an even mix in photographer gender?
Yeah, I mean I think that, especially in the fashion world, I work with women most of the time, especially in hair and makeup and styling, models and all that stuff, because that's a big demographic, obviously. I work with women a lot, and I'm seeing women photographers more and more. And I think that they have the ultimate ability to charm and have that connection with people, more so than that I think.
You know, before this you and I were talking about your staff and your crew, and that you have an internship program. Are you finding a lot of young photographers are signing up for that internship program, and equally men and women?
Yeah, absolutely. Both women and men, really equally. I have actually more women, I think a little bit. And most of them are still in school, or they're just fresh out of college, and they're from all over the place. We got interviews from as far as Nigeria, the UK, and all over the place coming into Louisville, Kentucky, so it's really cool, yeah. It's pretty crazy.
Anything to add, Michael?
I mean it's great, even looking at your audience here, it's pretty evenly split, you know among gender, but in the adventure sports specifically, which has typically been a very male-dominated thing, there's definitely a dozen or more women creating really amazing work right now. I'm inspired by, Crystal Wright's one of them, who's a friend, she's doing great work. There's a bunch of women really doing, they're really getting out there, and pushing the boundaries as well. Not just in the photography, but what they're actually doing. I mean, in terms of the rock climbing world, women are now climbing at the highest levels. It's pretty exciting to see some of this stuff.
Cool. Well, with respect to staying relevant, how have you guys seen this shift in social media, impact your businesses? Do you find value in social media? And B, which platforms do you guys find the most valuable, if you do find value?
Go for it.
I love social media.
Look at that smile. I like social media. Can we take a selfie right now?
Yeah, I've been using social media for a long, long time, going back to the music industry, when I was in that world, and it all started with like Friendster and MySpace, and like way back when. And has evolved over the years to being what it is now, which is an amazing, amazing asset for entrepreneur in a business, especially in the photography world, because everything is visual. And it's a platform for people to see your work instantly, again, but we're coming to this problem where there's just a lot of noise, so you have to be as unique as possible. So I think that having, using social media to your advantage is definitely a must-have for any business. I think that nowadays like, I tend to think of myself more as a content creator, than just necessarily a photographer. And that's content not only for other brands, but content for myself. And so because content is king, content is everything these days. And that's how you really do stand out. My job as a photographer is to create a lot of content, whether that's behind the scenes, or that's also photography, or editorial portrait, or whatever it might be, especially when I do like international travel, because content still has such longevity in that world, as far as social media.
Michael, I noticed earlier in our conversation, it seems like you have this hate slash, hate-love relationship with social media.
I mean I definitely see how useful it can be, Instagram in particular, for photographers is the easy one, it's your online portfolio, and among a certain crowd, especially as photo editors get younger and younger, they're probably finding you on Instagram before they're finding your website, which to me is terrifying, but depending on how honest you want me to be, on the flip side, I would say it's very inspirational, for the good side. On the downside, in terms of the photo industry, I'm being brutally honest here, and I've talked to a lot of photographers who have said a similar thing, in private.
It's gonna be public now.
This is no shock to anybody, but I feel like it's making mediocre images good enough. And that I think the industry as a whole, is not creating, there's still those epic, unbelievable images, the cream of the crop, but overall I think it's lowered the bar. And there's not many photographers that might admit that, but it's kind of sad to see that in some ways.
You're in the stock world, what do you think about that?
Well, two different thoughts. I think that social media has a danger of falsely rewarding people, in two ways. One in, they may get a lot of followers simply by posting a lot, but that work isn't always the most marketable, or necessarily the best, even though it might be the most popular. A buyer needs other things. They need room for titles and words, and they need variety and horizontal and vertical and a lot of other things that the average social media person might not think of. So there's still the craft and business side of it, in that regard. But the other thing is, that the search algorithm will give you more of the same of what you click on. So you're constantly, you're almost in a glass bubble that you don't even realize you're in, in that you're constantly fed work that is matching tags and keywords and things that you like. So it's like you're just getting back more of what you like, but not necessarily what the marketplace requires or needs. And so it can be kind of dangerous I think in that regard. I think at the same time, yes I agree with Clay that you have to have it, I think you have to have a presence. You have a chance to show your personality in social media, that you otherwise might not get from a website, on an intimate level, on a regular basis, and to see the consistency of it. I think there are pros and cons to it, and I do agree that I think it in general, has maybe made things good enough, and has made the average image more acceptable. Mediocrity has become more acceptable.
The flip side is it's pushing us all to be better, which that's a pretty good side benefit, too. So not to be the total downer up here. Like, oh the world's coming down. But you know, and it has opened up new opportunities that never existed. There's more clients because of it, because 80% of my work is probably going online somewhere instead of into print, these days, which is shocking in some ways, but just the new reality.
Yeah, so in terms of running you guys' businesses, how much of your time do you spend on social media?
Close to none for me.
None for you. Well you have a big corporation.
We post things, we post things like care sheets, and what our company is about. We're not looking for a lot of followers, and this is actually a distinction worth making for everybody is, you want quality engagement. We've moved off of the era of impressions, and moved closer to engagement. I'd rather have three or four thousand people, and get 800 likes on a photo, because they genuinely like what it is you're doing, or what you're about, whether you're a chef, or whether you're a photographer, versus having 50,000 and 30 likes, which I've seen that many many times. And so the quality of engagement I think is key in anything. For me, I think social media is great promotionally. I come from a marketing and publicity background. So I think that, prior to my photography, I did that at a movie studio for almost 10 years. And so I see the value in messaging and marketing and informing people through it. And I think that individual photographers may see great value in it, but as a company, it's just one smaller tool for us.
Clay, how about you?
I spend every day usually on social media, just whether it's replying to people, or engaging, and the goal is to build a community around my audience, and engagement is so much. Yeah, you're absolutely right, it's not about impressions, it's about engagement now. And building an audience and building a community that is engaging, that is involved, that's involved in your journey as a person, and a photographer, and an influencer and what not. Yeah I spend about every morning on hour or two. Knock it out, and then spend the rest of the day.
Trying to be present.
How about you, Michael?
I guess for me it depends on what we consider social media, because I put out this newsletter that I spend a week putting together every quarter, and it goes out to 8000 people, which is kind of social and it's online for free. So that's a lot of time. If I'm just talking like day-to-day stuff, you know I hate to admit, maybe an hour or more all told, but it's spaced out in 10 minutes here, five minutes there. But every two to three days I post an image on my, either on Facebook, or Instagram, and then you've got to keep it going, because if you like take a huge break, a whole lotta people are gonna check out.
I spend more time cruising on other people's social media.
Has you guys' pricing changed at all in the last, let's say, 10 years?
I've only been shooting for six.
Okay, in the last six years?
Tell us, up, down?
Yeah, it's been on a steady increase, which is great. Yeah, it's awesome actually. Just this past year has been a real change when I rebranded, and sort of rebranded my everything. From image and logo and website and all that stuff, and I got like a professional portfolio edit, and did all that jazz, and it changed the game for me, it really did. So I actually doubled my revenue this year.
Yeah. Michael? How about you, pricing?
Well in terms of like how much I make, I think it's been fairly consistent with little micro-bumps throughout my career going up. It seems to go in plateaus, like you have a really amazing year, and you just bump up to the next plateau, and then it bumps up for actual income. In terms of how much I make per image, or usage rates, like a rock falling out of the sky, since 2008 but, the funny thing is my income is still staying the same, or increasing, so it's just making it in different ways, and licensing maybe more images than I have in the past.
You evolve and adapt and that's why.
Which naturally as a professional, that's correct. You have to be able to do that.
Ian, can you comment on the reason why stock has dropped off a cliff.
Yeah, absolutely. It hasn't dropped off a, well it's dropped off a cliff per image, per price, right, per unit. The stock market was built on an economic term called scarcity. And there was a false scarcity. We had a group of photographers who put their images behind a wall, and in order to have access to them, you would sell it. Well, that group of photographers has grown tremendously, and work is not nearly as scarce, or as unique, as it once was. And so, what you have is a shift, in sort of the economic paradigm, where it's now going from a scarce market, to now one of volume. And so what's happening I think in the pricing and what we've seen, is that our prices have maintained themselves over time, or if anything have grown, but that's because the volume has now replaced the uniqueness of it, and so what I think is happening, is with a huge amount of digital works. Imagine an image used to go for $500, well now it maybe goes for $100, and if you look at most stock agencies' websites, there was an era of having 32 different prices, no longer exists. They have three or four, and they do it by resolution, or term, or pay per use, or whatever the model will be. But what's happening is, we're starting to get to an average price point. Most places are already budgeting a certain sort of price point, and they range anywhere from very low, in the rights manage world, $50 all the way up to maybe $500 or $750. The average price per image if everybody's selling around the same point, has the potential in five years where everyone's selling images for the same price.
So you're saying all images could potentially be--
A hundred bucks.
The same price.
Or be the same price. It might be $5, it won't be $5 because no one can build a business on it, and that's what people are learning, in the micro stock business, and even their own CEO's of a lot of companies have come out and said this is an unsustainable business model. So I think the price point will be higher simply by the fact that infrastructure needs to be supported. At the same time, if you look at how the model has changed in the last 10 years, of going from hundreds of categories and terms and usage, and restricting the rights, to only having three or four, well where does it go after the three or four average out at one price. Then everybody's gonna end up having one price as well. So it'd be interesting to see if it happens. It's a hard industry to predict. And there's always new, very clever people with a lot of venture capital funds, thinking up ideas on how they can, they use the term, disrupt the industry, and that's what it ends up doing. Very often it disrupts it, but it doesn't necessarily improve it. And those disruptions often times do settle out, so I'll be curious to see, but I'm inclined to think that we'll have an average price at some point. Or at least several.
But also I think there's, how we license images, that whole model is changing. It's been rights-managed for a long time. A lot of my peers in discussion, they do things completely differently, which we don't have time to go into, but you know, that whole idea of how we license an image, clients are demanding all rights a lot more often than...
You see more and more buyouts.
Totally, I mean it's pretty rare to actually be able to just license an image for one use anymore, for me at least. Clients want more leeway, which is totally understandable. So it's in flux.
The leeway comes because they don't know the end-use themselves, in its entirety. And so that ends up changing their buying pattern. So if you come in, and you're like, well I know I need it for this, but I don't know that we're not gonna need it for these other few things, then they need that freedom, and the challenges, you guys have done well in marketing your work at a premium price and maintaining that, as best as you can. But you can go to a royalty-free site, and get all uses included for 20 or 30 bucks or less, five or eight dollars, or whatever it is, or your subscription, and it undermines that principle, but I think if the content is king, and it is very good, then I think that you have the potential to retain that. Our rates are premium, they're higher than other places, and people still spend it, but that's because you can offer other services, customer service in general, having a phone that you can answer, research, helping guide and build content that's specific to clients, knowing your photographers and having a relationship with it. All of those things can add value to the business that doesn't have to just be the transaction for the image itself.
Cool, cool insight into the stock industry from Mister Stocks himself. I think one of the things that we need to all recognize as we're watching this, is that we should be encouraged about the photo industry. I think it's a good time to be a photographer. There's a lot of opportunity out there, and so if you've been watching Photo Week 2017, and been overwhelmed with all of these classes, and all of these techniques, just recognize that a lot of this, is to show you what's out there. What's the opportunity in this genre or that genre? I think all four of us would say, stick your neck out there, try hard. It ain't easy. You'll find none of us sleeping in on a Saturday morning. Well, maybe.
One day a year or something.
I've never missed a flight before, and now you'll never let me forget it.
You know it's hard work, it takes a lot of effort, but there is success out there for those who are willing to put in the effort, and to fine tune their craft. So I think with that, it would be fun to have some questions from the audience, and then Kenna, maybe you can pepper in some questions from the internet land, so anyone from the audience have questions, for the panel?
So thank you very much for all of that. Ian, you mentioned specifically, how often you may or may not see a 'wow' image? So the last time you saw a 'wow' image from a new or lesser known photographer, what was it about that image that made it a 'wow' image?
Great question, I think, well we do see a lot of really incredible work coming through, from the photographers we represent, and a lot of, of course, the folks here at Creative Live are always inspiring. The images that wow me the most these days, tend to be journalistic in nature. They have the ability to tell a great story instantly, and usually that story has some sort of an emotional attachment or aspect to it. As Mike said when we first started, we always talk about, story story story. It's always story. And then just the foresight, you always wonder how a photographer sees something, and stops and captures it in that instant and moment, and you always, I have such respect for that ability to recognize that, and capture it on film, because it is not easy. I think great moments pass all of us by all the time, it's the photographer who recognizes when to stop and get it. I think for me, these days, the journalistic work has been the most powerful, I think. Especially with the world we live in.
Okay, so I have a question. So given the topic of content creation, one, I'd like to know who your influences are, who inspires you, out there, one in only quality of image, but story. And then, I'd also like to hear you guys address the idea of looking at the industry more from a content-first, as opposed to quality first. And, how do you look at that, and want to embrace that as a future model for your own selves?
Quality first, I'm influenced by a lot of different things. I see a lot of movies. My girlfriend and I just saw the latest Blade Runner, and it blew me away. I gotta go see it again. A lot of my lighting is actually influenced by movies, because if you're a grip on a movie set in Hollywood, you know your stuff. But, to get it back to basics, all of my peers in the outdoor industry, Tim Hemphill, Keith Luzinsky, Jimmy Chen, Cory Rich, who's taught here, all of who I consider my peers. I'm constantly jealous and inspired by their work, and usually I'm more jealous of where they got to go, though their images definitely inspire me. So it's a little bit of both. But even outside of my genre, like Albert Watson, Andrew Echols, there's all kinds of the fashion portrait folks out there, Brigitte Lacome, I could go off, I've got hundreds and hundreds of these names. And then like Salvador Dali, Picasso, Van Gogh. I mean, I started out as an artist from a very young age, painting and drawing and stuff, so I have this art history background, just in my head from looking at art. And I think you know, honestly if I was a photographer these days, this is some advice Albert Watson gave us once at a class, he's like, go look at art. Don't watch TV, go to a museum, look at art. That might inspire you a whole lot more than anything else you can see, because a lot of what we try to do, has already been done before. There's so much art, even Picasso, you look at his paintings and they may be whackadoodle to you, but you could look at that, and if you look at it long enough, you might get some crazy ideas and go try 'em out, in a portrait studio, or wherever you're doing, and come up with some really unique work. It's not a copy of his work, but it's something that's pushing you farther. Did that kind of answer it?
Yeah, as far as the inspiration part, and the other part that I would like to get you to talk about is the embracing content as king, and how to use content as a priority over image quality, as a priority for a business model, going forward.
I would add something on that, I think you can have something low quality. I mean like if somebody takes a horrible photo of Bigfoot, which they usually are, but it's real, but it's real, it's gonna be, it will resonate. You're gonna see it everywhere. It really depends on how it's used, but I think to answer the question I think you're getting at, is I think at some point what defines and separates the professional, and the way to aspire to it is, at some point both the content and the quality have to be superior, because the marketplace is so competitive that the only room that you have, unless your content is so compelling, such as my example, the only way to be truly competitive across a broad spectrum is to have both content and quality be the best they can be, given the circumstances. And it's simply because it's so competitive, because if you don't, the next person will. And I find that once you start to master the art of storytelling, the only other area you really have to push boundaries, is in your technology, and the quality of that, in my opinion.
What he just said. Yeah, for me inspiration is just throughout life. I'm inspired by, not only people and other photographers, but I'm inspired by everything around me that's going on, life events, films, cinematographers, and as far as still photography, I'm inspired by real events, real action, real stories, and it carries in that more journalistic side of photography more than anything else. I follow a lot of people, but it's always people that have real stories to share, that are compelling, and great content, of course.
What Clay said. I mean artists, journalists, my inspiration comes from so many different places.
I think at the core, it's about storytelling. It's about having a clear, real, event, real thing to share that's authentic, and original and real.
Yeah, and I'll just say for myself, I'm a voracious consumer of information. I love reading. I love looking at graphic and visual moving images, like Michael had mentioned movies. I cannot watch a movie, and not pick apart the lighting. I just can't do it. My wife's thinking, she's crying, and I'm like, is that a grid? You know, whatever. But my background's engineering, as well, so I love like MC Escher. I love MC Escher, Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture. That type of stuff really inspires me. I love that design and that structure, and that form. Those are my inspirations. And then photographically, I started out as a pro in the 90's, yeah the 90's, and so I was all about Galen Rowell, and Franz Lanting, who's taught here, and those types of photographers, those were like my ideal. Kenna, anything from the internet?
Yeah, we do. Questions about mentors. Let me go back to the question. Did any of you have mentors, and how would you recommend people go about getting a mentor these days? And is it harder because of social media, and people wanting a lot of things from people who are out there?
I think the hardest step is just reaching out to people, and reaching out to people that you are inspired by, or would consider a mentor. For me personally, I don't really have like someone that I would call a mentor. I had friends, I had a lot of people and colleagues in the industry that I hung out with, and partied with, and had a good time with, and assisted, and they assisted me. That's just kind of how I first started, and even though I call a lot of those people, a lot of times, mentors, I didn't have one specific person, it was more just a community that I inspired from, but if you're looking for mentorship, then always the hardest part is that first step of reaching out, reaching out and actually communicating with somebody that you are inspired by. And then, you'd be surprised at what kind of response you get.
I think mentorships are important. Apprenticeships, internships, whatever form they take, being exposed to someone's process and seeing what it has to offer you in this form of knowledge I think is irreplaceable. There's nothing better than being able to work with people. I remember in the early days, I'd call photographers, and I remember people I would call. Honestly, I mean this guy too. When I first started in photography, I was still working at a desk job, and I signed up with a stock agency, I went to their annual meeting, and he was the guest speaker. And I learned all about his work flow, and I still use your work flow today. And how cool is it, to be up here sitting onstage with Michael. Your mentorships and your inspiration can come from so many different places. I think they're incredibly important. Building a community as you say, of people whose opinion you value, and feels aligned with what you hope to achieve. I think that's where to get the mentorship. How do you get one these days? There's more people shooting, there's more people producing, I just think it's a matter of reaching out, too, as he said, yeah.
For me, I actually did have one person, especially early on in my career, Marc Romanelli, is a really good friend of mine. This is like 20 years ago. I was working at an outdoor store, and he came in and, at the time, he was and still is one of the top stock photographers in the world. He worked for the Image Bank, and Getty Images. Thank you Marc, if you're out there watching. And he even had a handler with him, the first time I met him, like a celebrity, who fended me off, and then Mark turned out to be super nice. He took the time to meet with me, and was very honest. He's like, look kid this is the good stuff, forget the rest of that. And then from there, I kept meeting with him more and more frequently, and then you know, at some point, we just hung out a lot, when I was home and when he was home, he would let me borrow incredibly expensive gear that I couldn't afford early on, and take it to the other side of the world, and hang off a cliff with it. So I mean talk about generosity. He's still a mentor of mine, and a good friend, and we can talk openly about the industry just like we're doing now, and I think that is key, to find a group of photographers, and that's fairly easy these days, in professional organizations, ASMP or PPA, or whatever the organization is, APA, to where you can talk openly about pricing or all these issues, because I'm sure we all have that. But there's also been mentors like, take a workshop, I know the whole workshop thing seems expensive but, the amount of money you pay for a workshop, whether you're just watching Creative Live, or a physical live workshop, A, you get to meet face-to-face, and you can make a lifelong friend of like one of the most famous photographers in the world, and have a resource that you can call up, and talk to them. I learned all of my lighting stuff from three or four photographers, some of whom have taught here on Creative Live, and then just kept expanding and pushing it on my own, but in terms of how to find a mentor, I think if you do want an actual, physical interaction with the person, you need to live where they live. Don't email a photographer who lives on the other side of the country, and you're not going there. Like I want you to be a mentor, because it's just not gonna be that effective. You need to meet up and have coffee and talk shop, so look for somebody in your area. And I get emails, like five to 10 a week, asking to assist, or that, and that's fine because for me especially, I pick up assistants where I'm going, I don't necessarily always take them with me, because clients may or may not want to pay for that. But I think yeah, look in your local area. Join a professional photo organization, or at least attend some of their meetings, and there's great opportunity there.
Another question, Kenna?
Let's see if there are any in our studio audience.
Hey there, I have a previous background in music, and so, I switched roles from the sound job, to the photography side, working also in promotions with radio for years, and that's like my natural ebb and flow, and it's just like a natural extension of my body, but I also love the outdoors, and if I'm not at a concert, I'm outside on a trail somewhere. I hike Monkey Face once a year. And I've gone from Washington to Montana just to hear Conrad Angers and Jimmy Chen speak, just for it. So my thing is, like when I go into that, and I want to learn, because I did get blade certified, how do I dangle off of a cliff, and to see these moves, and this beautiful body, climbing and doing these crazy things with its fingers, and wanting to shoot that, but then, oh we're branding ourselves, you're a concert photographer, and how you display that, also on social media, without confusing people. Are you a concert photographer, do you go outside? Oh you hike, oh okay what's going on? You know what I mean?
Your question is, I shoot multiple genres, how do I?
Yeah, and if you love it, okay go into it more, and then are you taking away from the craft that you love, as a result?
The easy answer is to have two separate accounts. But, there's a stellar photographer, Ben Moon, who did that amazing movie, Denali, who's a good friend of several of us up here, I know. He shoots a lot of rock and roll, and American folksingers, and he has both on his website, and it fits his vibe, you might check him out. But the easy answer is two separate accounts, if you want for branding purposes. You guys might know more about that than me.
Yeah, I mean, I think at the end of the day, it's hard to niche that down and decide what you love more. But obviously, whatever you have more of an emotional connection to, feel more personal, and then whatever you think you have a better opportunity to generate revenue in, that would be something of a brand. But at the same time, you've got to love what you do, so I see the problem there, but yeah I don't know, I would say just do both, but just find what's more commercially viable, I guess, and go with that, as far as a marketing standpoint, and then everything else is just personal.
All right, another question has come in, and maybe Mike, you can answer this one, too. When you are behind the camera in the field these days, some of you have been doing that for longer than others, but what is the most inspiring part of creating photography for you?
I'll start, and you guys can wrap up that question. I just like the process, the whole thing. I like the gear, I like, it sounds funny, but I like the smell of the equipment, and I like the sound of the shutter. I was talking with one of the Creative Live staffers here, and he heard my Nikon D850 this week, and he goes, "Oh I like the sound of that shutter." And I'm like, I know, I do too! And so I enjoy the technical side, and then I love having this vision in my head. I was photographing some portraits last week, and I had this idea, and I was like, let's try to execute it. A lot of times you're on set and there's time pressure, or there's just this pressure we put on ourself, that doesn't even really need to exist, but you're like, oh I didn't execute that very well. And for me, it's pushing through that fear of, is the client gonna be okay if I just push it one step farther? Well of course they're gonna be okay. They're paying me to make this great image, and do it really well. So I like that pressure, I don't shy away from the pressure of shooting live, or shooting in front of a client, so for me, everything about photography is awesome. Everything is awesome. Lego Movie.
That was a great answer, it's a pretty cool job.
Yeah, it is a cool job, isn't it?
Like if I hear like one ounce of complaining onset, I'm like really? Like, look where you are man. Come on. Yeah, for me photography, the most rewarding thing of photography, and what I do, is helping others, and empowering others, and saving lives with photography, especially with all the non-profits, and the NGO's that we work with, in various third world countries, and whatnot, and developing countries. I love doing that, and that's something that I'm not really like known for, but it's the most rewarding thing that I get out of photography is more of that coverage, more of the reportage, and just sharing stories of people, and talking to people, and helping people.
Yeah, two things for me I think, I think on that same vein, being an environmental photographer, which will always be I think my core, and playing an active role in conservation issues. I couldn't be more proud to be part of that, and to see that work, I had some images in Reuters and the New York Times, in the last couple of weeks on issues that are directly impacting the health of certain ecosystems, in the marine national monuments, and I was so proud to have my work representing these places that people don't otherwise get to see, or know they exist, but yet play a very vital role in our well-being. So I think that's part, and I think on a very small or intimate level, in the field, one of the great things about being an environmental and outdoor photographer, is rarely do things ever go just right, perfectly. But when they do, and it all comes together and you're standing there, and you know you've got the shot, and it's just beautiful, and it's that 10, and it's that one you know you're gonna put in your portfolio, and you feel that moment, that's one of those things that you just never, you live for. And they're more fleeting than you would imagine.
Well this isn't necessarily as lofty, I like to give back and inspire people, but for me, I get excited about the adventure aspect of it, and I get excited about, not only photographing and seeing what these world class athletes can do, is always exciting, for everybody, just like the par core we just wrapped up in there. But it's also pushing my own self, and pushing through my own fears to get those images. There's also an environmental piece to what I do, because I was telling somebody the other day, that, a couple of years ago, I traversed the Patagonia ice cap, and as we were walking across, I'm thinking, this isn't gonna be here in 20, 30 years, and these images might end up being historical record, along with a whole host of other images, obviously, some of yours, your landscapes.
You don't think of it at the time.
You never think you're gonna be part of the historical record.
I'm just out taking pictures, at least that's how I started.
Totally. But if I don't have some cool adventure on the books, within the next two months, I start to get a little worried about life. But it's not necessarily an adventure in the sense that somebody's risking their life. It's anything that's outside of your comfort zone. For me, portraiture can be pretty adventurous, because it's easy to take a picture of somebody hanging off a cliff, or somebody jumping off a 3000 foot cliff in a wing suit. When you have to actually get in the studio, and stare at a person and be like, okay what do we do now? That can be terrifying.
I'm not sure I agree with you, on your easy to do. Whatever.
It's easier to take a picture of that.
Well cool, I really want to thank the three of you for sharing your insights. What does it mean to stay relevant in this day and age? I think that's really neat. I'd like to thank the live studio audience, so everyone who's here, give yourself a hand for being involved this week, awesome.