The Stock Photography Revolution

As Leigh has been pointing out, there have been quite a few visible changes in the stock photography world as of late. Things don’t work (or even look) like they used to. And this is good for the photographers who see in this new path a direction that inspires them to break away from the same old same old.

In the last year alone a number of small, curated collections have popped up in light of a desire for a more authentic and tasteful style representative of the every day. The line between art and function continues to blur. It makes me wonder how these media revolutions occur. As anyone who catches the occasional movie or TV show from, say the 80’s, you watch the acting and the cinematography, and you may wonder to yourself, “How in the world did we find this to be so compelling? It’s so campy!” But indeed, you remember being enamored with it at the time… maybe Buck Rodgers was everything to you, or Miami Vice blew you a way with it’s pastel-clad heroes.Interestingly, the man behind Miami Vice went on to create some stunning, ground breaking work in cinema. For example, in his film, Heat, new film techniques, featuring a shallower depth of field that abstracted and blurred the background into oblivion. This ended up focusing viewer’s attention on to the lead actors, making the plots even more immersive. It was both beautiful and functional. I believe we’re finally starting to see this kind of growth and creativity in stock photography. The shackles of old school rules and clinical techniques are being thrown off and photographers are being encouraged to follow their hearts. No longer is noise, fringe, tilt-shifting/free lensing a deal breaker. If you make a compelling image, you now have a market for it and that market has widened beyond home decor and fine art. Did I forget to mention that you don’t even need a DSLR to shoot stock? A simple camera phone can be your tool. Talk about breaking all the rules.

As a photographer who also works as a graphic designer, I am thrilled and excited to see this revolution. Never before have I had access to so much talent to cull through as I create for clients. Concepts are both more down-to-earth, and even more lofty (I’m thinking of clever, illustrative studio compositions and sill lives that put past work to shame). Add to this, the knowledge that finally, it seems, distributors of stock photography arewizening up to the value of their photographers and are offering a much better compensation split. Alternatively, many of the old, establishedlicensors are still working to cut prices for customers (and compensation for their photographers) even more. positive change doesn’t work for everyone it seems.

Stocksy was revolutionary when it opened it’s doors last Winter, offering a 50/50 (or better depending on license) split to all their photographers. They feature a new format, with the photographers as shareholders and members in a growing cooperative. This was unheard of at the time, and is certainly still a rather novel model. More sites have started springing up offering competitive compensation and even, set your own pricing models. Now, more than ever, there is opportunity for photographers to make a real living off their work while building a respectable body of work.The joke and stigma of stock photography is finally starting to crumble away. What will be the long term result of this revolution? It’s hard to say, but I’m excited and keeping my eyes peeled over the horizon. For once, the sun is rising and we’re all invited. You can decide to wake up early and watch the sun come up, or sleep in and let it pass, but now, more than ever, that choice is yours.

Image by Lucas Saugen. Licensed via Stocksy.com
Photograph licensed from Stocksy.com. Image by Lucas Saugen of San Francisco, CA

Explore on Your Own

Are you interested in developing a stock photography portfolio? I’d recommend taking a look at some of the new movers and shakers to see if you may have a unique perspective of your own to add to the mix:Stocksy I’m of course biased, but this place is tops. Continually growing, the curated collections are witty and stunningly beautiful. The photographers are from all over the world and as such, offer a wide variety of perspectives. Dig beyond the curation and you’ll find a whole host of beautifully composed, down-to-earth lifestyle imagery, aspirational work and expertly assembled, lit and shot still lives. Content here is exclusive to Stocksy and not available for licensing on other sites, so you know you can only get it here.

Offset An off-shoot of Shutterstock, offset launched a little while after Stocksy opened it’s doors. Working with a select group of photographers, they offer a variety of unique, and individual imagery from all of the world.

500PX  In the past, as a graphic designer, if I found an image on this site that I wished to use for a client’s project, I’d have to negotiate licensing directly with the photographer. They are now culling through the thousands of images uploaded world-wide daily and cherry picking content they feel is most compelling and offering it for licensing at a flat rate fee ($250) with more than 50% of that fee going to the photographers.

Creative Market – this virtual newborn is just starting out, but shows promise. This is a set-your-own-price marketplace. Photographers, illustrators and the like are invited to place their work onto the site for licensing and are welcome to set their own prices… from a few dollars, to hundreds. The decision is entirely the artist’s. They also do not require exclusive content, so the same work may be found on other licensing sites for more, or less. The adventure is yours to have. ;)

Image Brief – they’ve been around for a while now and many of us photographers have dipped our toes into this unique market place at least once. They source creative briefs from clients (in my opinion, often rather nondescript client requests are offered up to start which can be frustrating) and send that brief out to their members asking, “Do you have an image that matches this brief?” There’s a chance that if you do have an image that fits, your work could be licensed by the client. Compensation appears to range by project (some of which are impressive and quite motivating) and not all briefs are completed. It’s a bit of a gamble to shoot just for their briefs as they do often evolve over the life of the brief. I image this is a result of the client maybe being a “I’ll know it when I see it” type. ;) If you have a large backlog of work, this could be a great fit for you. And heck, why not give it a try?


 

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