April 28th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
April 20th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
Last week I closed my post with the mention that two items had caused me to wonder about the possibilities of future changes in the microstock business. First there was Tony Stone entering the market with his statement that he would help Vivozoom ‘focus on the most relevant images” and then an announcement from Microstock Israel that it would concentrate on images of life in Israel and the Middle East.
Stock photographers have been developing niches and specialties since the camera was invented. Many independent photo agencies, in the past, were known for a niche or specialty. If a picture researcher wanted a photo of a historical event, she/he went to the Bettmann Archive; for current events to Black Star or Magnum; for access to National Geographic photographers to Woodfin Camp; for science to PhotoResearchers; for lifestyle to Image Bank or the Stock Market. Several of these collections still thrive but some are closed or the brand and its culture lost to the uber-brands of Getty or Corbis.
Instead of contacting independent, specialized companies, today’s image buyers rely on keyword search and hope to find relevant content. But since few editors/keyworders or executives in the large RF/RM portals have expertise in niche fields, important images within a specialized field can go astray. They are lost in the vast middle of an online collection because the keywords don’t identify the key aspects of a technical subject or do so inaccurately. Since niche collections have a niche group of buyers, the images are not downloaded as much as more popular themes like business or families. Thus they don’t license as often and are often dropped because of it. A lot of specialized visual knowledge has been lost to the industry with consolidation. (Nevertheless keyword accuracy and relevant search are much more likely in one of the traditional companies than at any of the microstock sites.)
According to Selling Stock (subscription required) textbook publishers are still afraid of microstock images because they can’t trust the captions/keywords. Jim Pickerell writes, “The percentage of micro uses continues to grow, despite the complaints of editors that often the caption information on microstock images is not detailed enough and its accuracy cannot always be trusted.”
In microstock, photos of a technical nature or of specific plants, animals or locations are lost into the middle no man’s land in search because the keywords are even less apt to be correct than in the traditional companies. The volume of images hitting the micro sites daily make it very difficult to check for accuracy or to add keywords to technical subjects. A perfect example of data that is key to many users is the scientific name associated with plants and animals. Or as I found, even the common name can be wrong.
I searched for ‘platypus’ on Shutterstock, iStockphoto and Dreamstime. One site returned a bald eagle against a flag, another several spiny anteaters and another several different species of fish. At least I could see why a spiny anteater was included since both the platypus and spiny anteaters are the only mammals that lay eggs but that wouldn’t matter a bit if I included an anteater in an educational program and called it a platypus. “So what?” I can hear you think. Who cares when photos of people jumping on trampolines outsell platypus images thousands to one? Answer: Teacher’s care, students need to know, publishers will walk away if there is even a hint of inaccuracy in an image. Photos are tools of communication. Public communication has an obligation to be correct no matter how obscure the subject.
Does it matter that if you were looking for a platypus in a microstock collection, you could think it referred to an eagle, a duck, a fish or a lizard? If you are putting out a science book, you’d better be certain that what you see is what you want!
Dreamstime has made efforts to establish special collections that have been ‘curated’ by Dreamstime members. These often subject oriented groups of images can be helpful but there is still the lingering worry that the person that assembled the collection may not have any particular knowledge about the images besides the thought that the photos are ‘nice’.
Shouldn’t the case be made for specialty microstock companies that are staffed with reviewers that are versed in the subject? Either within a brand or as stand-alone companies? Would the costs be too high? How about a medical collection reviewed by starving medical students? Or collections that are assembled by others with specialized knowledge? Or Like Israelis who know their land, its places, its religions and its businesses? iStock has taken a step toward the Tony Stone philosophy that only the relevant should survive in the creation of the Vetta Collection.
As a former biology teacher who wrote educational materials and worked on science based exhibitions and books that required absolute confidence in the information associated with the photography that I selected, I believe that curated and specialty microstock collections could be an important next step in the business. What do you think?
April 14th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
The media often feature Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein as the founders of Getty Images, but were they truly the company founders like Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard, or Steve Jobs who started up their companies from scratch in their garages?
Mark Getty and work colleague Jonathan Klein cleverly identified the potential for huge growth in the stock photo industry, sought out Tony Stone Images as the market leader, acquired the company, and left their careers at London-based Hambro’s Bank to become Chairman and CEO of the company. It was Getty Holdings, representing a consortium of Getty family interests, which bought Tony Stone Images (Tony had previously purchased Click! Chicago and my company, After-Image).
The two re-branded the business as Getty Images, and worked with Tony and his existing management to carry the company forward. So you could say that Tony Stone (who founded his enterprise in the loft of his home decades earlier) was the true founder of Getty Images.
Tony Stone catalog from 1996 Vol 8
I was insulted by Klein’s remark in the recent NY Times article, “When we began, stock photography or licensed images, preshot images being licensed, was perceived as the armpit of the photo industry,” said Jonathan Klein, the chief executive of Getty Images who helped found the agency in 1995. “No self-respecting art director or creative director would use a preshot image, because it wasn’t original, it hadn’t been commissioned by them, it wasn’t their creativity.”
I know from direct experience as the president of Tony Stone Images/LA that the top creatives regularly bought stock photography including for high visibility, big campaigns for major advertisers prior to the invention of Getty Images. I submit that neither Getty nor Klein were responsible for elevating the creative level of the stock photo business. Those laurels go to Tony and the photographer/founders of the Image Bank (Pete Turner, Jay Maisel, Larry Fried as well as businessman, James Garcia). There is no doubt of the immense achievement of Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein – they continued the acquisition of companies which Tony Stone had started, and accelerated the move into the digital world. But the very least they should do is refrain from continuously insulting those whose shoulders they stood on.
It was Tony Stone’s vision that kickstarted Getty Images’ position at top of the creative market. When I sold my company, After-Image, to Tony and became part of Tony Stone Images, we had over 400,000 photographs in the files in Los Angeles. Tony took one look at the dozens of meticulously organized file cabinets and asked me, “Why do you need all these photos?” He had recognized the highly creative nature of some of the After-Image collection but correctly realized that much was just ‘filler’.
Tony Stone catalog from the mid-1990's
Tony Stone has joined the executive team at Vivozoom
Tony’s theory then and now, reinterated on Microstock Diaries, is that there is no point in wasting time and resources on anything except the best photos in a genre. He once told me that all the world needed was a dozen of the best photos of Paris as those were the images that would run as covers, chapter openers or full page spreads. Why have photos of every little burg in Provence when those images will usually only run small. Of course this was before the Internet and the decline of print. And prior to microstock’s long tail circling the globe.
In addition to the big news last week that Tony Stone has joined former colleague, Lawrence Gould, at Vivozoom, I noticed news about a new microstock company specializing in images from Israel, with what seems to be an emphasis on religion. Is there a new era in the lifecycle of the microstock business, signaled by these two unrelated events? What do you think? Stay tuned.
April 6th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
Last week I wrote about video/still productions. I had asked Image Source for comments but wasn’t able to work in the response. Since Image Source’s Lisa Curesky’s response was lengthy and informative, I decided to run it as a guest post. (I have no connection nor any direct experience working with Image Source, except to say that I have known and respected the company for many years. Founder and CEO, Christina Vaughn, is profiled here)
Guest post by Lisa Curesky | Director of Photography, The Americas | Image Source US Inc.
In Ellen’s last post she raised the question, “To video or not”?
I am coming from the thick of things at Image Source, where we’ve spent the better part of a year creating and launching our new Cross Media product to offer our clients matching stills and motion. I thought I would share some of what we’ve learned in our experience with producing cross-media.
There is no question that getting into motion or cross media can be an intimidating process. We have produced elaborate cross media productions with 30 models along with still and motion crews on the same set, using the RED camera with tracks and a 400 lb dolly and we have done simple shoots using minimal crew, available light and a tripod and gotten stellar results from both approaches. Regardless of your approach, you must do your homework and have a great shoot brief that outlines each shot from start to finish. You can’t just “wing it”.
Image Source Director of Photography for the Americas, Lisa Curesky
Just as a still image can fail so can a video clip, but even more so. The briefs that our art directors prepare for cross media are more complex and include sample video clips (to showcase a camera movement or cut) and storyboards for each motion shot – in addition to what they normally put into a brief. The shoots become highly scripted but the action still has to look natural.
Not every clip has to have someone moving or interacting wildly. Just as in a still shot, body language and small nuances in direction can make for a beautiful moment. We are shooting a variety of subject matters, some more lifestyle based and some more conceptual, but at the end of the day, there has to be a message in whatever you are trying to convey. Ellen mentioned in her blog post that motion needs to follow the same general subject guidelines as still stock imagery. Image Source is shooting some of the classic themes over again for our offering. We view this as an opportunity to look at what is missing in the market for motion and shoot it as a cross media production.
Demand for the ever-popular themes of families, business, seniors and healthcare, for example, doesn’t change over time, regardless of the medium. Many basic themes, as you mention Ellen, have been “shot to death” but there is always a way to make them look fresh and relevant again. Tying motion and stills together is just one exciting way to breath new life into these topics.
But what does today’s family look like? What are the current issues in healthcare that need to be addressed and what is the new “new economy”? Working closely with an agency that guides a photographer in the direction of what is needed is as important as ever. Collaboration is key.
We continue to think ahead to where the demands of clients will gravitate as new technologies emerge – just think of what the new tablets (like the iPad) are doing to bring “print” into a new era. We are keeping our eyes on 3-D as another area to watch.
Image Source Founder and CEO, Christina Vaughn
If you are thinking about adding motion to your portfolio I suggest that you partner with an agency that is going to give you support. Currently, Image Source is offering art direction and production support to photographers who want to get their feet wet with cross media. We are working within their budgets and most importantly; we are able to do all post-production on the stills and motion after the shoot.
Here is an example of something that highlights our cross-media productions.
We often consider whether or not the photographer should be shooting the video or directing it. That is something that merits consideration, especially for photographers with no prior experience with motion. The value of good, smooth camera work cannot be underestimated. One approach is to hire or collaborate with a DP or camera operator to start, as there is some comfort in having someone who has experience on the motion side that can work behind the camera while the photographer directs. Hopefully that same person can also deliver final edited files, if you are not well versed in video editing software.
I don’t know if stock video will “save” the incomes of those who are suffering a reduction in royalties, but it does give another revenue stream in an era of convergence and cross media when many advertising and editorial clients are looking for photographers who can offer both options in their portfolios. So, at the moment, there is still time to be a big fish in a small pond if you plan to shoot still and motion together.
Is video going to save stock photographers’ income from collapse? (Not that I think collapse is eminent, keeping in mind that millions and millions of dollars are still being made in stock photography…it’s that so many more fingers are in the pie).
Last week I saw video presentations made using the Canon 5D MK II by Vicent LaForet and ASC Directory of Photography, Shane Hurlbut at the Blend Images creative meeting. LaForet, coming from still photography and Hurlbut from the most complex of cinematographic productions arrived at similar destinations in the use of the Canon. Both have easily and successfully translated their skills sets into making wonderful videos for advertising and even for a feature film.
Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Vicent LaForet, is creating terrific videos with the Canon 5D MK II
The videos were stunning and exciting. Anyone who has ever been on the set of a motion picture will be amazed at the simplicity of the gear involved. Hurlbut has posted his camera configurations. He explained that a $160 million dollar budget for a feature film was reduced by 2/3s using the Canon instead of traditional equipment. LaForet is a natural film maker and produced his first short vid in two days of shooting the day after he first had a pre-production Canon MK II put into his hands at Canon Headquarters.
ASC Director of Photography Shane Hurlbut spoke at the Blend Images creative meeting 3/26/10
Many photographers in the Blend meeting, although deeply impressed by the presentations, later expressed doubt that they would go the route of these complex productions. One said to me, “I’m not about to go out and make a feature film just because my camera can!” The question is then what do you want to do with your camera with video capabilities and why?
Some stock still libraries have offered motion for many years but the business was never more than 3 to 5 % of total licensing fees. Today a stock photo buyer is able to purchase coordinated images from the same shoot to meet the needs for both print and web, still and motion. A good example of a company filling this need with an innovative product is the Image Source Cross Media Pack . Image Source Founder and CEO, Christina Vaughn, says, “Customers often aren’t satisfied with static images – they want flash, or video, or linear photography. We’ve done a lot of research into how our customers buy images, and we found increasingly that their campaigns needed to work across media – web, TV, and handheld devices as well as print.”
What vids to shoot? Generally the same subjects, concepts and themes that work well in still stock photography with the exception of the very simple shot of a model isolated against white. All a single person in a video can do is talk…well ok they could jump up and down, dance, or other activities…and without sound talking heads don’t have anything to say. Keep it simple though…the video show above has short segments that would work as stock clips but a full blown story becomes too specific for stock motion.
My advice: unless you have a burning desire to make videos, don’t. But play around with the camera and you may discover that you like what you see.
Think about this too as you decide whether to jump into motion or not: Clay Shirky writes: “The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brother’s finger. (Twice!) That minute has been watched by more people than the viewership of American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, and the Superbowl combined. (174 million views and counting.)” Read the entire post about how complexity harms business. The last few paragraphs are especially pertinent to the business of photography.
Finally congratulations to the founding photographer members of Blend with Sarah Fix and Rick Becker-Leckrone for treating photographers with respect and offering them the opportunity to gather together in a community of friends, supporters and colleagues.