Wednesday, May 02, 2007

You Don't See When You're Not Looking - The Serendipity Factor

I was asked recently about starting a career in stock photography. My advice, as always lately, was to get a law degree, then become a photographer. Other than that, I have some ideas on what it takes to make it in stock photography. I've been modestly successful as a stock shooter since the late eighties, and I personally know a lot of others, so from my perspective this is what you need to know.

* You'll need to be an outstanding photographer to succeed. This is true in any aspect of photography, incl weddings. In fact, this is true in all aspects of life. Whatever you do you must do well to succeed. Half-assed is half-assed no matter what you do, nobody wants mediocre anything.

* You'll need to be self-directed and highly motivated because the next item is shared by all successful photographers....

* You must be highly prolific, you need to always be shooting, every day, every day. I'm constantly running into
Bill Tomlin
, a local wedding & portrait (retail studio) photographer, on the street, or in the alley that connects our places (we're around the corner from each other), or in the bank, wherever. He's NEVER seen me without my camera and he comments on it constantly. I keep saying, and it's true, you never know what you're going to see. All the images accompanying this post were serendipitous sightings, would've been lost if I hadn't had my camera.

Of course, everything can't be submitted to an archive, but a lot of what I encounter serendipitously can be submitted to an archive, especially when presented in series as a body of work. One picture from a farmers market doesn't say much, even if it's a great image. Spend an entire summer browsing farmers markets and you arrive in October with several hundred outstanding images of fruit... you look very good to the archive's editor. But you need to have your camera with you. You never know when you'll pass a roadside stand.

* Pay attention! You never know what you'll see, but you won't see unless you're looking!! keep notes, write stuff down, your memory will fail when you need it most.

* Production value counts big-time!! Can't say that enough. Produce your shoots. Light them, prop them, get wardrobe, H&M, hire a stylist.

* You MUST establish a business relationship with both an accountant and an attorney. They need not specialize in photography but you can't use your dad's accountant or a cousin or whatever. SPEND MONEY* and hire people you trust, people who treat you like a professional rather than you're their little sister. This is key.

When I first started I had my taxes done by my dad's accountant. He didn't take me seriously, probably hoped I'd "come to my senses" and open a chain of dry cleaning stores or something. I got no advice, just tax prep. No guidance, I wasn't paying him, I was a favor done for my dad.

My older brother was my attorney. That's great fee-wise but my biz issues were grist for conversation at family dinners.

When I finally wised-up and hired an accountant the guy showed me how to organize my bookkeeping, told me what is and is not deductible, went back and amended five years of previous tax returns (I got money back!!), etc, etc. My attorney keeps my business confidential... priceless on Sunday evenings.

(your two most important biz relationships will be with your accountant and your attorney)

* Spend money. You can't start a good business by being undercapitalized. I know, I tried it. I went into business on a shoestring, bumped along unsuccessfully for a few years. Why? No budget.

Finally got *lucky* and landed a few BIG jobs. Took the money and started over: bought all new equipment, computers, advertising and promotion, portfolios. If you need to, take a small business loan, get some money behind you and DO IT RIGHT. Been humming along ever since.

Shoot, shoot, shoot. You're not a photographer if you're not making pictures!! Get out of the chair, turn off the computer and go out and make pictures. Hire an assistant or get an intern to handle your post-production. You need to do what photographers do: make pictures!!
Top: Torn Poster, Tel Aviv - Asahi Pentax SPII, 28mm Super Takumar lens, Kodachrome II
2nd: Reflected Traffic, NYC - Nikon F3HP, 85/1.2 Nikkor lens, Kodachrome 25
3rd: Empire State Bldg Reflection, NYC - Nikon F3HP, 28/2.8 Nikkor lens, Kodachrome 25
Bottom: Cargo Containers, Newark NJ - Canon EOS-1N, 600/4.0 Canon EF-L lens, Fujichrome Velvia


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