I received several emails from discouraged photographers after they read Shannon Fagan’s guest post about the re-positioning of the stock photography business. One asked, “So why is it exactly that you (Ellen) are still telling me to spend time and money to upload stock photos?” My reply was a recommendation that this photographer remain in all of the possible revenue streams. A photographer should seek diversity in pursuit of multiple areas of income as, after all, stock photography is still a big business in terms of global distribution.
Plus photography continues to offer many of us a lifestyle rich with experiences. It’s about travel and the people we meet along the way. It has given myself and my colleagues, editors and photographers, one of the best rewards that money can’t often buy: an interesting life.
Portrait of Peggy's granddaughter. ©ShannonFagan/Getty Images
Shannon’s experience described in an email to me last week underlines how photography connects us. It highlights the value of those connections to our lives and the lives of others.
Shannon wrote: “Here is a story that is a reminder of why I love shooting stock photography. It has given me experiences like these, though bittersweet, that I doubt I would have had the time to develop had I focused on a career of strictly assignment work”.
“In the spring of 2005, I traveled to New Mexico to shoot an advertisement for Nikon cameras. A few months later, I returned to photograph in and around Santa Fe as a self initiated shoot follow-up to that trip. The resulting personal project photographs were accepted into Getty Images’ Rights Managed collections and one of them appeared on the walls of Getty’s Beijing sales office this past November. The photograph was of a child with a magic wand situated upon the wallpaper background of a kitchen breakfast nook. This was the granddaughter of Peggy, a wonderfully lively New Mexico actress and travel agent who had found her way into my casting folder by way of the New Mexico Film Board website.”
“Peggy had been taking acting classes in the Santa Fe area and it was natural that she might respond to my posting for lifestyle stock photography models. Peggy called herself “grand-meow” and certainly there was a purrrr of harmony between her and her family, and amongst herself and her neighbors. She was the perfect real life model; inviting, and resourceful. When I approached her to participate in a series of images about senior lifestyles, she aptly recommended her friends next door.”
Shannon Fagan's photo of Peggy's granddaughter hanging in the Getty Images Beijing office
“Peggy had told me in Santa Fe that she’d be headed to New York in two months with her girlfriends. And thus she did. In early October 2005, I got an email. Riding atop a Manhattan sightseeing bus down Broadway near the Brooklyn Bridge, Peggy saw a photographer gathered with his crew on the sidewalk. She knew him from his knee pads. They were the same knee pads that he wore at her house just a couple months prior. She told me that she shouted my name and waved until the tour bus operator told her to sit down.”
“I sent her an email this week telling her about her granddaughter’s photo hanging in the office in Beijing. I was a little surprised when her email bounced back just a couple minutes later. I Googled her name and Albuquerque (where she moved in 2006). I was shocked at what appeared at the top of the search field. (link below).”
“I have been lucky in this profession to touch people’s lives, and they in turn, have touched mine. It is these connections that explain why I have enjoyed the profession of photography. Had I not seen her granddaughter’s photo in China, I likely would not have thought to contact her, though Peggy certainly was a standout from my trip there to New Mexico.”
“These random things are not so random when you simply pay attention to all of the connectedness around us. It is a reminder to live each day to the fullest and never give up. Keep searching. Even when the truth hurts. I leave you with the news from Albuquerque, New Mexico on Aug 31, 2009. There is video coverage in the link.”
Peggy and her granddaughter©ShannonFagan/Getty Images
writing from New York City, February 22, 2010
Shannon Fagan is seemingly everywhere that stock photography is discussed. (See John Lund’s interview). This isn’t because Shannon is a shameless self-promoter but because he works hard at his craft, gives back to the community of photographers and is an articulate and forward thinking guy. Like many in the business today Shannon is spending a lot of time thinking about the future of stock photography in general and, more specifically, his place in it.
Consequently Shannon is able to identify specific and positive steps that photographers can take to step up and refine their game to survive the rolling changes taking place in the photo business. I met with Shannon last week as he was returning to NYC from Tennessee with a quick side trip to Seattle where we chatted for a couple of hours. A week later we concluded the conversation via phone as he was leaving the Atlanta airport. We spoke mostly about advice he has for emerging photographers that are considering stock photography.
His premise is that you’ll do better work (be more successful) if you craft your stock photo business around your lifestyle. To do that, you need to lead an examined life. Being what you think you should be/do, isn’t the same as finding yourself and your life’s work. Nor is heading into the photographic business with unrealistic assumptions about instant success going to be a good starting point. Shannon’s insights are especially key for emerging photographers.
Shannon Fagan - President of The Stock Artists Alliance
“It’s obvious’, Shannon says, “people do better work, if they are happy doing it’. Below are Shannon’s thoughts on the internal research required:
Personality. Are you introverted or extroverted? If you’re shy, then don’t get yourself into a career where you have to deal with lots of people as happens for a lifestyle shooter. If you want to do shoots with multiple models…hire an extroverted assistant to put them at ease. Perhaps architectural or food photography might better suit your style.
Time: Prefer 9-5 or night owl? If you have family obligations or plan on having them, consider that you might want to build your personal stock brand around subjects that are best shown in daylight and close to home. If you intend to shoot stock images that require a business or retail location, you may find that you are able to use these locations only at night. Will that fit with your lifestyle?
Financial: Budget Tolerance/Return on investment. Consider that you will need money to invest in self-financed shoots…also consider how long you can wait for a return on your investment. Don’t count on a six month return anymore. To hasten the time between when you pay shoot expenses and when the shoots go into the black think about cost of production. Can you use free sources or is your time worth more than it will take to find those free props, wardrobes, sets etc? Can you afford to use your savings on stock productions?
Communication: Can you turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’? Personality has a lot to do with being a successful stock photographer. Not only do you have to round up talent but you have to be a boss…part of your job is training freelance or occasional staff. Do you have the stomach for it?
Equipment: Gear hound or point & shoot? Not likely you’ll get too far with a simple point and shoot, even in microstock today. But more importantly do you love Photoshop? If you would rather be set on by fire ants than sit in front of a computer, can you afford to hire your post work out to others? Remember to calculate the cost of your time if you do the work yourself.
Style: Fashionista or Jeans & T-Shirt? A tongue in cheek comment as Shannon indicates that his wardrobe has either been the result of a photo shoot or will someday be in one.
Fagan's stock image used in a bank advert
Vision Portfolio? Bright and cheery or Dark and Moody? Bright and cheery is the name of the game currently in stock photography. If your style is otherwise, can you hold on to your darker vision while showing a sunny side in a majority of your stock images? Be wary that formulaic shooting could deprive you of the creative jolt you get from being a photographer.
I’ll add to Shannon’s words a quote by Steve Jobs from a commencement address at Stanford a few years back: “Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
Or Sting’s advice to young musicians, “…they say ‘how do I make it?’ And I say to them “it’s not important to make it, just keep playing music and its its own reward. And if you’re meant to be a big star or not-that’s just fate. But a love of music and a passion for music is always going to be a gift for you”.