Find your voice – David Sanger

February 16th, 2010 by

It is too limiting a characterization to call David Sanger simply a travel photographer. Yes, he travels a great deal and the majority of his photos fall into that genre. Even though travel photography can be one of the most conservative genres within stock, his work often displays unique points of view and his ideas about the future are positive and innovative. Even in a brief conversation with David, it is clear that his creativity isn’t limited to photography. He expresses wide-ranging and imaginative ideas in response to questions about the changing stock photo marketplace, copyright issues and the future of the business.

He has said, “Old markets are drying up but new opportunities are emerging, communicating with communities of consumers, photo aficionados, travel readers, citizens. The economics are completely different, but the possibilities tremendous. The key is providing something of value”.

David recognizes that stock photography ‘doesn’t say anything’ in the same way that photojournalism or editorial photos do. He speaks of disintermediation (elimination of the stock distribution company) as a road to more personal communication between photographers and the audience for the work:

“When images are distributed via middlemen, it is usually someone else’s message that is communicated. Disintermediation opens up the possibility, the responsibility, for a more personal communication. The focus then shifts to the personality, trustworthiness, authority, point of view and voice of the photographer, whether fine artist or journalist. …Those who are successful will be those who are the most compelling, engaging or insightful.”

Surprisingly, Sanger hasn’t found that eliminating the middleman from his own licensing model to be as successful as he first expected three or four years ago. In addition to his primary outlet at Getty Images, he licenses his images direct to buyers using the PhotoShelter platform. For now, though, Sanger suggests that the major buyers of rights managed still rely mainly on account people at the large stock agencies to provide images to them. Of course, buyers come directly to David Sanger because they like to work with him … and they do … or for unique destinations and images.

He has used the experience gained from direct licensing and his past life in corporate computer systems to analyze user behavior on his personal stock site. He found over 10,000 (mainly blogger) domains linking to his photos. These users weren’t likely to pay for Sanger’s rights managed images. In light of the fact that copyright is not reasonably enforceable against a blogger, Sanger takes the high road, “It is not how to stop them but how to turn them into revenue paying customers.  There is a huge appetite for images. Providing people with what they want has to be a good thing … but we have to find how to monetize it.”

The Internet of people, social media, is a natural outlet for images. The sheer energy of Flickr conversations, the abundance of images that decorate MySpace and Tumblr pages, reveal people’s fascination with and devotion to images. Rather than fight the people who are interested in their images, photographers would do well to embrace them, engage them and discover how to transform that interest into viable economic support.”

While the industry attempts to solve the revenue conundrum, David, is bullish about photographers creating value by ‘saying something.’ “Stock photography itself doesn’t really say anything on its own. We provide images to serve someone else’s message. No one is interested in my message [when I’m shooting stock].” Sanger suggests that photographers enter the creative conversation on a more personal level. “Find your voice,” is his closing advice.

About David Sanger: Sanger has traveled to over 100 countries. In addition to the travel work he shoots for corporate, shipping and non-profit clients including Bank of America, Exxon, the National Park Service, Clorox and Interorient. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Stock Artists Alliance and a former president of the organization. “I’m fascinated by technology, web design, data, communications and social media, especially how these offer photographers’ new opportunities for expression and for business”.

More about David and some of the best advice I’ve seen for travel photographers can be found at Photomedia Online.

David’s blog and website are at