April 24th, 2012 by Ellen Boughn
February 6th, 2012 by Ellen Boughn
A word limit was part of my contract to write Microstock Money Shots. I somehow failed to remember that clause during the months it took to write the book. Finally I had reread, rewritten and reviewed the text and photos until l was dreaming in microstock shots. I met the deadline and sent the thing off with my good wishes for success.
A few days later I had an email from my editor in New York. The words, ‘We can’t publish this manuscript” jumped out from my screen. I yowled and ran into my partner’s office,
“They aren’t going to publish the damn thing!”
“I don’t know”
“What does the email say exactly?”
I read the email more carefully. The manuscript was longer than the contract specified. Book budgets are based on printing a certain number of pages and silly me thought you wrote a book until you were finished.
I had to trim quite a bit but in the end, the book was better for it. And the experience taught me to ask myself when is a book…or a blog…finished? Sometimes it’s when the contract says it’s done and other times it is when you are finished saying what you have to say.
This blog is done. Almost anything anyone would want to know about taking and selling stock photos from my knowledge base has been covered and more. Now that the photos have all disappeared due to an undiscovered mystery of WordPress or the Internet in general…it does seem time to top it off.
I’m writing another book…but not about photography. Maybe my readers here will like it anyway. I’ll certainly post about it once it’s done…although without a deadline……..well, you freelancers know what that means.
February 3rd, 2012 by Ellen Boughn
Last week I posted about some of the major reasons that photos are rejected due to subject, composition or cropping issues. This week, hold on to your photoshop hat as we go over the common technical mistakes that cause photos to be refused by inspectors and reviewers.
I’ve heard it again and again from successful traditional stock photographers, “I don’t understand microstock. I’m sending in great stuff and it gets rejected for technical reasons. I’m using the same workflow and processes I apply to images that are accepted by my traditional rights managed agency.” If it is the first time that the long time stock photographer has submitted to microstock, they are usually angry…and sometimes at me!
Some problems obvious at a reviewers first glance:
- The date stamp was active and time/date shows on frame
- The photo is out of focus
- The depth of field is too shallow for the subject
- An image has been submitted upside down or sideways
Some problems are more subtle. This is why you must ALWAYS check your work at 100% before submitting to catch the following problems:
Photo in hi res is sharp. Blurred here as an illustration ©Hot99 | Dreamstime.com
Image appeared sharp but at 100% is soft
- Dirt on the sensor or lens created spots on the image that haven’t been removed
- Fringing (chromatic aberation) in highlights
- Blown out light due to over exposure
Posterization in shadows often due to underexposure
Artifact/compression flaws due to too much interpolation
For illustrators: Poor gradation in tones (lots of stripes through images)
My father had a very personal way of focusing his camera…he stood in front of his favorite subject…my lovely mother…and then moved forward or backward until she was in focus. This is not recommended and even my Dad had to give it up after a trip to the Arizona desert found his backside in direct contact with a cactus as he stepped backwards in order to bring my mother into focus. (Remember to learn from your rejections and don’t take them personally-they are better than a poke in the eye or somewhere else-like my Dad received!)
July 20th, 2011 by Ellen Boughn
There are zillions of photos taken every week all over the world…but sadly all the images on my posts have vanished. Maybe they missed me and went back to Dreamstime and Shutterstock since I have neglected my blog for months?
In any case, apologies for leaving you with mere words.
There will be more to come.
May 6th, 2011 by Ellen Boughn
©Billyfoto | Dreamstime.com
Decisions Decisions-which is best?
OK, OK-some photographers live on to become stellar photo editors but usually NOT OF THEIR OWN WORK. Photographers sometimes include a few mediocre or downright boring images in really important selections of their work. Yes, most know what work is best from a take but I’ve found there are always a few stinkers in any self-edited mix. As I like to say, “You are known by the weakest photo in your portfolio or submission.”
I’ve reviewed hundreds of portfolios and assisted photographers in editing for books, portfolios and submissions to clients and stock companies. A good 90 % of the time there are a couple of photos that lower the marks I give to photographers in my mind. These are all pros, for the most part, with extensive experience who are well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. So what’s with the bad apples?
It’s related to memory. A photographer can’t let go of a just average or even bad photo that he or she risked their life to take*, sweat blood to get right, spent a tons of money on or because it reminds them of their first ice cream cone or kiss or you know.
It takes an outside eye to cull dull photos that a photographer has fallen in love with. Being in love with a bad photo is sorta like love for someone who is has a borderline personality disorder . You know you should walk away but you just can’t get rid of her or him.
As a soulful plea in the name of art directors, art buyers and photo editors worldwide please pass that ‘final’ edit under the unbiased nose of someone with a good eye. Listen to what they have to say even if it means divorce from that photo of peeling paint on the side of an old barn.
Alternatively if you have the time and/or money show that person with a good eye some of your rejects. You could be surprised to find, just like in relationships with people, you might have overlooked a keeper because you didn’t examine its positive attributes carefully.
*Like Capa’s shot of the invasion at Omaha beach or the one of Michael Jackson’s hair on fire (photo credit please) sometimes not the best pictures wins because it is one of the few or the only. (In the former, it was processing that messed up the photos and in the later, smoke got in the way.)
February 1st, 2011 by Ellen Boughn
I’ve hit a few potholes on the road to writing anything fresh here or anywhere for most of 2011. And this even with inspiration I gained from listening to other presenters and attendees at the wondrous ASMP SB3 weekends just concluded. I had been driving a mental Rolls Royce down a street paved with ideas for several years since I got into the habit of writing for Dreamstime and then my book on Microstock. But now my brain is the mental version of a yard car. Parked with grass growing up between the tires. WHY have I run out of gas and what lesson does this have for creative people everywhere?
Your brain after a mind numbing job.
First issue to attack when facing a creative slump is to analyze what created it. As I struggled to understand what happened to cause my creative brain to turn to cement, I read a post on Colleen Wainwright’s blog. (Highly recommended whether or not you are brain dead). Colleen had written even though it was financially rewarding, she had figured out that mind numbing jobs are not worth it even if it means giving up new iPhones and other items of desire. A-HA! In an instant I recognized the problem. But the problem with the problem was that it was helping to fund some of my items of desire-such as heirloom tomatoes and health insurance.
Nevertheless I resigned from a writing gig where I felt that my client was over thinking my writing, unwisely editing and finally, not allowing me to do what I was hired for—to make them more successful in an online world where corp-speak is a virus that can spread mind freeze to author and reader alike. I quit the day after reading Colleen’s post and wrote about it for the ASMP Strictly Business blog.
Today after six or seven weeks I’m back at it…with a lesson for all photographers and other creative peeps: Jobs or clients that drain your soul are not worth it even if you need the money. They may help feed the wolf at the door but in the long run, the damage to your confidence and creative being may be permanent.
*see feeding wolf at the door above
Photo licensed from bptakoma on Creative Commons license for attribution
January 6th, 2011 by Ellen Boughn
The pet food and other related services for cats and dogs make up a 4.5 BILLION dollar a year industry in the U.S. alone. Although photos of your sleeping dog will probably not get accepted into a stock site, there is a huge demand for professionally photos of pets–especially if they are funny or really UGLY. People with their animals are big sellers too. To capture the market for pet photos you have to be GOOD. I’ve asked Southern California photographer Christina Gandolfo to share a post from her blog about professional photos of cats and dogs…and the tips will work for pet lizards, snakes, ferrets and hamsters too!
One comment I hear a lot when people see my photos of cats and dogs, “No way. My cat (or dog) would never pose like that!” While it’s true that my own cats have grown accustomed to a camera being pointed their direction and the chug-chik sound of a shutter firing, many of the techniques I use to get good animal photos can be used by anyone — from point-n-shoot hobbyist to gear-flush photo addicts.
Follow these tips and you’ll have greeting-card worthy images of your favorite fur-models in no time.
1. Practice patience, grasshopper. To get truly unique pet photos it’s not enough to just have your camera always nearby. Nine times out of 10 whatever weird, quirky or cute thing your pet is doing will have vanished by the time you even find your camera’s ON button, and you’ll be left with a blank-faced pet who acts like nothing special ever happened.
Much like a cat stalks its prey you need to stealthily lie in wait for the good moments. Thankfully, since animals are compelling creatures by nature this isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Spend as little as 10 minutes with your full attention (and camera) trained on your pet and I can almost guarantee it will do something photo-worthy. Whether it’s a freakishly psychotic yawn, a sickingly adorable stretch, or a carefully timed attack on a housefly you want to be ready when it happens.
©Christina Gandolfo "Psycho-Kitty"
2. Go low. The most interesting pet photos are often those that are taken from a pet’s perspective. Getting face-to-face with your cat or dog is not only more likely to result in an eye-catching image, but it brings you into your pet’s world and allows you to see the environment from their vantage point. It also creates a more intimate connection between you, your pet and your camera. Lie around often enough with a camera and soon your pet will not only grow used to it, but will likely reward the attention with some gratuitous posing.
3. Zoom, zoom. If you’re dealing with an animal who needs his space or if you want to get shots that are very candid in nature, it helps to bring out the big guns. I use my 70-200mm zoom lens often when photographing pets, and recommend that same focal range or a long telephoto lens (85mm +) for anyone who’s serious about photographing animals.
©Christina Gandolfo "Flash in his backyard"
A zoom lens or long telephoto is perfect for trips to the dog park when you want to capture your pup in full sprint or interacting with her favorite pals at the park. Shooting at a long focal length will also help to blur out the background so that the focus remains on your pet. Which brings us to our next tip…
4. Be shallow. Again, pet photos most often work best when the focus remains on Princess and not the pile of laundry in the background. The easiest way to do this is to put your camera into aperture priority mode (both SLRs and many P&Ss have this option), and open your lens as wide as it will go. Ideally you want an aperture of f/2.8 or lower but if your camera only opens as wide as f/4 then set it to that.
The effect you’re going for is a nice, sharp subject and a buttery soft background. Of course, if you’re shooting head-on, it IS possible to be use too shallow of focus. If, for instance, you’re shooting your dachshund at f/1.4 and focusing on his eyes, the eyes will be nice and crisp but the nose and snout will be noticeably blurred. Sometimes this is OK, and sometimes you may wish you’d been stopped down to 2.8, 4.o, or above to get more detail in the nose. Your best bet is to experiment with different apertures and see what you like best for your particular pet, and in different situations.
©Christina Gandolfo "Shy cocker"
Just remember, if you’re shooting with a shallow depth, the closer you are to your subject the more narrow the area of focus will be. Back up a little or use a longer focal length, and more area of your photo will be in focus.
Bonus newbie tip: If you’re you’re shooting in bright daylight conditions and want to shoot at a wide aperture you’ll probably need to be at ISO 100 (or lower). If you’re in darker conditions (indoors) you will likely need to crank your ISO up to 400 or higher, if your camera can handle it. With my Canon 5D Mark II, I often shoot natural light pet photos indoors at ISO 1600 or above. And like any portrait, remember you’ll get very nice light if your subject is near a window with diffused light (i.e., well-lit, but not in a direct beam of light).
©Christina Gandolfo "Einstein"
5. Make some noise. While sudden noises tend to startle pets (leave your cymbals in the closet) subtle noises can grab your pet’s attention, and often elicit a quizzical look or expression. I’ve found dogs respond well to a slight whimper, high-pitched kitten-mew, or a squeak. Cats tend to like crinkly/crackly noises. We often scratch our studio’s nylon lighting umbrellas to catch their attention. If you have a baby toy that crinkles, try that, or try crumpling paper or running your fingers across paper. Cats sometimes respond to a mew, too. Your pet may have a unique noise it responds to– if so, find what it is and use it!
©Christina Gandolfo "Pink Tongue"
6. Resort to bribery. When all else fails– do the obvious and resort to treats. Just realize that once you bring out the Milkbones, all other bets are off. If you’re shooting dogs — particularly those that will listen to direction — it often works to administer the treats yourself; doing so keeps the connection between you and your pooch. For a more posed (and often ‘human-like’) portrait, put the dog in a sit/stay position, take a few steps back, aim your camera, offer a slight whimper, and fire! Then offer the reward.
If you’re photographing cats, ideally you’ll want another person to dole out treats while you stand ready with the camera. Since most cats don’t inhale treats the same way dogs do you can offer a treat upfront, and the photo ops will come afterward, while they lick their chops, clean themselves or maybe even extend a paw for more.
©Christina Gandolfo "Doo Drinks"
Of course this technique works best with a SLR that allows you to fire quickly and capture those moments that merely flash before the eye.
You may think “my cat would never do that,” but I assure you, you can can get them to do a lot of crazy things for at least 1/250 of a second.
Stay tuned to Christina’s blog for a future post on tips for shooting pets in studio!
December 20th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
Not only is business global, so is life. The president of the United States is of mixed ethnicity as are huge members of most societies. Buyers of stock photography want to use images that show an accurate and authentic representation of their target market or demographic.There are two approaches to representing diversity in lifestyle photography. In the first you want to be inclusive when selecting models by showing people from a range of ethnicity in a single photo. The second approach is exclusivity-concentrate on authentic depictions of a specific ethnic demographic.
©4774344sean/Crestock The requirement for a variety of ethnic origins in a business image is nicely met in this photo because the casting to that effect isn’t overtly obvious.
ETHNIC DIVERSITY WITHIN A GROUP PHOTO
Companies and specialized markets, like the U.S. textbook market, want group photos that show models from more than one race. A photo of a group of children should show boys and girls from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. Global businesses like to show that their employees come from many parts of the world and that they take diversity in hiring seriously.
I’ve noticed that in some photos the obvious leader or director in the group is an older white male. This is very old school and removed from the reality that women occupy important positions in all fields from business to medicine and education. Further there are some pretty important CEO’s in billion dollar businesses that are under 30 and they certainly aren’t all Caucasian.
©Andresr/Crestock Although these women are of Hispanic origin, this photo is useful in many cultures and countries. They are "world models".
Dropping one person of color into a photo to solve the diversity issue, is tokenism and frankly, looks just plain silly. I showed such a photo to a class of young photo students. When the image came on the screen, they burst out laughing. I was bewildered. When I asked why the giggles, they said that the group looked really faked.
You can’t realistically fake a middle class family in India for a website in India by shooting a second-generation American family. This is where the great diversity of cultures represented by microstock contributors adds strength to their collections. There are photographers living in all the major countries of the world who understand the subtle visual clues that stamp images with cultural honesty.
When you cast people, think of the target market for the images. Are you looking to depict an ethnic group within a broader society-such as a Hispanic family in U.S.? Or are do you want to show a typical family in a particular country such as a relationship group in Mexico City that is geared for that market?
Here are some tips to add diversity to popular business, education and family shots:
- Cast models that represent a ‘world look’ for maximum downloads. These are people with a blended looked of an uncertain ethnic origin. But be certain to identify their race as some models of one ethnicity don’t like being identified with another.
- Ensure that group shots mix it up…the obvious leader is a woman of African descent, for example. Or the CEO is very young.
- Shoot what you know. Photograph your own culture.
- When you travel remember to photograph day-to-day life not just the poorest citizens. For some reason some photographers think that commercial stock photography is photojournalism. It isn’t.
One group of buyers want real people from a particular demographic like an Indian family assimilated into a new country for use in hyper local ads/publications. Another group wants an authentic Indian family living in Delhi for example for marketing/websites etc. geared to the viewers/readers in India. The photos will show subtle but very real differences.
November 14th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
There are four major types of skiing and snowboarding shots that are most commonly required by stock photo users.
Here are the major themes to consider:
- Dramatic shots of experienced snowboarders and skiers in action.
- Vacation/travel type images of models at the bottom of the slopes, packing and unpacking the car and playing around in the snow with the runs in the background.
- Humorous conceptual images
- Studio shots where models can be placed in front of backgrounds or isolated against white.
©szarzynski /Crestock.This dramatic shot is composed to allow the user to crop out the identifiable lodge.
Use the following information to help you select appropriate models:
According to the U.S. based National Ski & Snowboard Retailers Association 63% of alpine skiers are male (mean age 33.6); 37% female (mean age 35.7). 70% of snowboarders are male and their mean age is 23.4; the 30% female snowboarders have a mean age of 25.6. Only .3% are over 65 or under seven years old. The big numbers are in the 13 to 17 age group (30.7%) and in the 18 to 24 age group (46.7%.)
The Experts. Choose the most talented athletes you can find. You don’t want to spend your resources taking photos of an average skier attempting to look like a serious one. Customers who want to download action images want to see highly skilled moves in photos and they quickly see if the moves are amateurish.
Snowboarders should be in the age range of low teens to late 20’s. Alpine and cross-country skiing have become more of a family sport and so you can consider ages from five on up to upper middle age and include families.
An advantage to hiring experienced skiers and snowboarders is that not only will they perform well on the slopes, they are more apt to wear the latest clothes and equipment. Snowboarding is a cool sport. You don’t want uncool props/wardrobe. You can study every issue of every snowboarding magazine published and sit for hours in front of your computer doing the same for the online snowboarding sites but unless you are part of the culture, don’t try to fake it. You will fall flat in more ways than one.
©dotshock/Crestock Always cut logos from sports equipment!
Everyone else. If your models are recreational skiers and boarders, concentrate on shooting them at the base of the runs or on the lift. The models could be playing in the snow…putting on their gear or helping a child to learn how to ski. Pick models that make up a family or couples.. Have your models talking to each other, messing around, adjusting equipment or in general having fun. Fun is the operative word for these shots no matter what visual problems they will solve.
The clothes for a family shoot should follow some rules such as helmets, no wild plaids or strange hats but don’t need to be as hip as the snowboard riders. You can rent equipment for the less serious skiers and snowboarders and have them bring their own clothes but be cautious of logos and copyrighted art on skis and boards. Be safe and take out all the art and logos using Photoshop.
© iofoto/Crestock Don't limit your photos to what's happening on the slopes. Getting there is half the fun.
White isn’t a good choice for clothing when shooting a sport that happens against white!
For studio shots, ensure that the models are dressed appropriately. It’s easy to forget gloves and goggles when you are inside. (This sounds like a ‘duh’ statement but sometimes it’s the little details that can radically mess up a shoot.) Put helmets on everyone.
Remember: get model releases! Don’t expect professionals to sign. They get big bucks for the use of photos of them in endorsement advertising. And that fellow way up the slope? Maybe you don’t think he is recognizable but unless he appears in the photo as a tiny dot surrounded by a sea of white, get a release.
© Wade/Crestock Cross-country skiing is less popular than alpine skiing but can be much easier to shoot.
Shooting talented athletes in any sport requires that you, too, are skilled. It’s not enough to aim your camera uphill from below or to grab shots from the lift. The best sports photographers know when to anticipate an action so that they are ready when it happens.
Don’t expect lots of downloads from long shots that show skiers as tiny dots surrounded by huge spaces of white. Use as long a lens as you have and zoom zoom zoom!
For background research visit a pro shop to get ideas for wardrobe and to see the latest equipment. Go to the websites of the major manufacturers to see great photography and to get styling ideas. Check out this source and Top Ten Snowboarding sites here.
Information central for all things ski.
Après ski? Pick a rustic bar or shoot close-up and any drink will do as long as the models still have on their gloves. Skol!
November 4th, 2010 by Ellen Boughn
Lady Gaga has it right when it comes to the interrupting phone call:
‘Stop telephonin’, me. Stop telephonin’, me.
(I’m busy). (I’m busy)’, she sings.
(Well, OK, she’s in a club in the song not the office but everyone knows Gaga wouldn’t be hanging out in a cube!)
When you pick up the phone to call a client, it had better be about something they want to hear. And cold calls? If the reception on the other end is closer to freezing than in the past, there is a reason. Calling a stock photo agency is probably going to result in frustration on your part. Why not email?
I don’t want to diminish the comfortable chats that we have now and again with close friends, clients and colleagues in the business but unless you know the person’s kid’s names, most contacts don’t fit into that category. One of the most welcome phrases I hear (or read) is, “When is a good time to call.” Then I know I’ll be prepared and have set aside time without interruption for the call when it is critical to speak.
Our means of communication have greatly expanded in the past decade. At the same time, most people are doing the work of the two or three of their colleagues that have been laid off. Nothing starts a conversation off on a worst foot than an insistent ring tone that has shattered one’s concentration.
I talk to photographers every week but I do it at a time that is mutually agreeable and established previously via email. We generally speak via SKYPE as I often have clients in other countries. We have the added advantage of being able to see each other via SKYPE video.
I like keeping up with the industry via blogs like this one and keeping track of my colleagues via twitter and facebook. I use email mainly for important communications with businesses other than individual photographers.
I can’t say how many in the photo business feel the same as I do but for me the office telephone is obsolete and its unanticipated ring makes me want to scream.
When this post first appeared on the ASMP Strictly Business Blog, a reader accused me of being elitist. I tried to explain that I was trying to respect others time and hoped that they would do the same for me. Right?
I became aware of microstock images (called ‘micro’ in the sense of micropayments for those of you with your nose so close to the grind stone that you haven’t heard) in the fall of 2006 while SVP at SuperStock. Was this iteration of the stock photography business a threat, an opportunity or both for photographers? I decided to find out by joining one. of the top microstock companies, Dreamstime. (After two years I left to write Microstock Money Shots and now I post to my blog on Crestock every Wednesday)
The problem many photographers have with microstock is the low licensing fees. With millions of images available from hundreds of thousands of contributors, it can be difficult to see decent revenue even with professional level work. The cost per image in time and effort can sometimes be greater than for traditional stock as the technical requirements are often higher than for rights managed work.
Others state, often violently, that microstock is ruining the industry. But one can’t blame microstock without also damning the camera companies that created inexpensive digital cameras, the Internet or the huge numbers of buyers that are using stock photography for personal blogs, small business websites or employees of companies whose budgets no longer permit the use of the higher priced images. The fact that those that used to pay high prices are now shopping for cheaper is a sign of times as much as anything else. It was recently revealed that Apple is using a microstock photo of the head of a lion on the packaging for their new O/S X, for example. (Although with billions in cash, one wonders why they wouldn’t want the protection of a RM image and one also wonders who got fired from Apple’s marketing department for using a photo freely available to a competitor.
Can photographers make a living solely in microstock? A few make hundreds of thousands but most can’t. This isn’t unlike traditional stock photography, especially today. Microstock is another layer of the money cake. Photographers today have to work harder and longer, earning from assignments, placing images in stock for traditional and microstock companies, holding workshops, encouraging print sales and any other uses of talent and equipment necessary to create a healthy revenue stream.
This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on the ASMP Blog Strictly Business.