One of the strongest influences which led to my venturing into the stock photo business was once when I could not source some pictures for a series of brochures and websites a few years ago. In particular, when preparing a community project, I discovered that there were themes and issues for which I just could not find the appropriate images. In the process of finding and choosing images, it also became clear to me that many traditional all-round photo agencies were horrendous junk shops. Images churned out by thousands of photographers with different models of completely different origins, cameras, locations, different light settings, finishing and more. All of which, if just blindly put together, ultimately spoil the overall impression and produce a finished product that shrieks out to anyone who has the slightest sense of atmosphere. I could not stand this.
Once the files of traditional photo agencies pass the 10 million images mark, they become guilty of focusing primarily on quantity and random selection from far too many photographers with different styles. With the current consolidation among the big photo agencies and price pressure on the photographers, I believe that niche photo agencies, such as my own, will experience a renaissance. Some customers prefer more focussed bureaus with styles that appeal to them, so it is important to consider what added value you can offer. This is where the compatibility of the pictures is without doubt a major factor for many customers.
One of the reasons why a guy like Yuri Arcurs (internationally known Danish manufacturer of great stock photos) has gained so much popularity is no doubt that his images, apart from being of very high photographic and technical quality, are also very compatible. He uses a harmonious group of models, and his images can be classified into a handful of styles, which makes it very easy to find pictures that match each other perfectly for a brochure, website or similar. Similarly, I have used a relatively small number of harmonious models, but a slightly greater spread of styles. Going through my sales files, I can identify 8 styles which cover more than 90% of the images. There will always be some exceptions, and so there should be in the interests of development and experimentation. Today I use about 5 different styles. The very concept of what constitutes a style is pretty diffuse, but for me it is a combination of the technique itself, including, particularly, the use of light, and finishing.
When you have photographed for many years, and your archive of images for sale is similarly produced over a long period and can be counted in thousands, it’s not unusual that there are images from the early years, which need to be sorted out. Photos from the days when technology and skills may not have been the best or which simply are too banal and not material you would want to be associated with. This is an on-going process for me. Rather show a reduced number of high quality images, than produce a greater volume where some are of questionable quality.
It was during one of these clean-up sessions that I began to look at my archive with the same eyes as when I started using photo agencies. And what a shambles! Themed galleries with a wonderful mix containing all different styles from high-key studio shots to everyday pictures in natural-looking light mixed with concept art and montages. Horrible!
Immediately that same evening I started a new project where the entire archive was equipped with style identification, making it possible to define searches by individual styles. This project is almost finished, and I really look forward to seeing the final result.
Another project is also progressing steadily. It involves updating titles, descriptions and keywords for all the images. It is the alpha and omega, for a picture archive such as mine that people can find an image, and in this process keywords and descriptive text are crucial. Previously they were only assigned by me and rather vaguely, since it is a pretty time consuming process if it is done properly. Some months ago I decided that this would end – getting irritated by this nagging task – and I engaged a few Indian firms for the job to supplement my own work. I chose two different vendors, plus myself to provide keywords and descriptions for different parts of the photo archive. This gives a greater spread of concepts, synonyms and closely related words, so I reached a bigger market of potential buyers. We are about halfway through, and around October I expect the entire archive to be updated. The results are already evident, though. In recent months I have had a monthly growth of 75% in the number of users of my image archive. Naturally I am now considering whether certain parts of the descriptions and keywords should be translated into other languages to improve hit-rates in eg Spanish speaking countries. More about this in a future posting.