There is a simple but time-proven axiom in the picture business that applies to this question: Generalists strive while specialists thrive.
The competition in today’s tumultuous stock industry is too enormous for anything but an extremely narrow focus. So the first order of business, before you even consider how you’ll bring your images into the marketplace, is to figure out whether you have devoted yourself to one or more specific stock subject sectors – and created the best (as in, “most salable”) possible images within those sectors.
If you haven’t really drilled down within one or more subject areas, all the marketing in the world isn’t going to help you. Having more than one area of specialty is certainly an option, but remember: The more subject areas you embrace, the more likely you will dilute your efforts in any one of them, and tackling too many will almost certainly lead to failure.
Roger Ressmeyer is a photographer who converted a lifelong personal interest in science and space into a successful stock career. He started out as an editorial photographer but marketed his stock through his own company, Starlight Photo Agency, which he eventually sold to Corbis.
Just a few weeks ago, Roger’s latest venture, the picture agency Science Faction, was sold to SuperStock. Ressmeyer’s passion for all things science-related inspired him to successfully exploit that stock niche and demonstrates the effectiveness of specialization.
My friend (and client) Jose Pelaez has been a stock shooter since the 1990s, when he was one of the most successful photographers at The Stock Market agency in New York. Today, Jose is both a co-owner and top seller at Blend Images.
© Jose Pelaez/KidStock
Veteran New York stock photographer Jose Pelaez has always had a special talent for capturing believable “people” pictures, but he opened up an entirely new revenue stream when he drilled down even further in his area of specialty and created his KidStock brand.
He’s an extremely talented “people” photographer, but to further enhance his sales opportunities he has created his own brand, KidStock, which is focused on everything from babies to college-age children, as well as family life (search “KidStock” on the Blend site and you’ll see over 4,000 examples of his images).
Claim Your Niche
Bottom line: Everybody’s looking for the silver bullet of selling to image buyers, when in fact it’s right under their noses. Make absolutely sure you’re creating a stock archive that’s both marketable and memorable! Find a subject niche that excites you, work the hell out of it and “own the niche.”
In so doing, your odds of success increase exponentially, no matter how you subsequently bring your images into the marketplace: by selling your pictures directly (labor-intensive, but with the highest degree of control), working through a “traditional” stock agency or royalty-free producer (which relieves you of sales, marketing and administrative tasks, at a price), or using a semi-DIY service like Alamy or PhotoShelter. They provide a useful platform for your images and give you a more favorable royalty percentage than agencies and RF producers – but you still have to market your pictures.
Paul H. Henning spent 15 years working as a corporate location photographer, after which he co-owned and directed Third Coast Stock Source, a professional stock photo agency. After selling that business in 1997 he managed offices for the Comstock and Robert Harding picture agencies in London, followed by his founding of Stock Answers, a consultancy serving photographers and picture libraries, in 1999. He is a frequent picture industry event panelist and panel moderator and teaches classes on stock and other facets of photography.
Full biography and additional information: Stock Answers
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