[Note: I'm excited today to announce a new element to this here blog: monthly guest posts from my badass staff. Since each of them are experts in their own right, I figured you'd be interested in hearing some different perspectives. Today, Scott takes the reins and raps about our push for visual impact over "perfection" and how stock photography gives him the willies. Round of applause, please...take it away Scotty...]
We keep a lot of irons in the fire around here. In order to keep tabs on everything, we have a daily morning meeting. One by one, we touch base briefly about each of the projects we’re working on. Photo shoots, video projects, websites, fine art, etc. One of the project headings that comes up for discussion is stock photography. We’ve got quite a large collection of images represented by large stock agencies that we’ve built over the years by filtering older commercial work into the stock machine, but lately, this part of the business model has fallen completely off our grid. It’s normally my job to manage our out-of-house stock collection, so I’ve had to ask myself the important question: Why don’t I get excited to get images delivered to the stock agencies?
The cause has a lot to do with the fact that we’re incredibly busy doing interesting projects with new art and new media. But I also can’t ignore the fact that we just don’t feel inspired by the business of stock photography, at all. Any thrill that was once there from being able to shoot what you want and “get paid” is gone. Here’s why its gone for me… [Click the 'continue reading' link below.]
If you’ve ever worked with a major stock agency, you’ve learned that their editing and technical guidelines have grown more and more refined (read stringent). The goal has been to build a system of rules, protocols, editors and technicians that will help to create a product that appeals to the largest number of buyers and moves images across the market as quickly as possible. These systems completely retooled the business of licensing existing photography. Now the technically good image with perfectly even exposure values, textbook sharpening, and the subject’s eyes balanced appropriately in the right upper third of the image is worth tens or hundreds of dollars instead of thousands. The thousand dollar sales haven’t come to an end, but they’re reduced. And the stock agencies have built countless collections at various price points with uniqueness that increased commensurately with the price. Images now need to be on brand, fit a certain collection or aesthetic, have popular keywordability, be technically perfect. Buyers have to go elsewhere to find images unencumbered by bureaucratic limitations.
As the post production lead here at our studio, I’ll use post as a microcosm for the shift in the stock industry. I learned post production skills out of necessity, and the initial response that I had to the immense power of post production was to make the most technically perfect images that I could. Detail in every pixel. Perfect transitions between light and color values. Smooth, pleasing skin tones. Enhanced eyes and teeth. Erased blemishes. Grey cards, noise reduction plugins, hell, I wrote an article on the minutia of edge specific sharpening. You get the drift. I was a dream come true to stock agencies. Every image that went across my desk was PERFECT.
But creativity requires change. In this instance for me it was embracing the “imperfect”. If you look at Chase’s images that I’ve been working on lately, you won’t find detail in every pixel. More likely you’ll find that the highlights and shadows are gone, the colors have shifted due to a heavy hand with the contrast and saturation controls, the transition areas might be a bit harsh. To help me build this point, I’m going to take a spin through the online portfolio right now, I encourage you to do the same. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
8 of 32. 25%. That’s the number of images in Chase Jarvis’ portfolio that I would let through the system if I were a technical editor at a major stock agency. Not too “good” for someone who is regarded as an world-class professional. Despite, or perhaps due to, these technical “flaws” we continue to get great feedback from creative directors/art buyers and the photographic community. We have embraced a marked shift from technical perfection to *raw visual impact*, and it’s paying off.
So what’s our shift in post production aesthetic got to do with the stock photography market? This change that has happened in balancing of technical perfection with visual interest is not limited to us at Chase Jarvis Inc. It’s sweeping the world. Art buyers and general public alike are ready to see what comes _post_ technical perfection. The rigid control of the industry that allowed Getty, Corbis, and a host of others to dominate the market in the first half of this decade is now the driving force in their regression. While art buyers have limited patience for sifting through images, not one will think twice about investing the time to surf the web longer and further to find the the visual voice that they need to help tell their story. They have turned away from the big, traditional players because they have a constant need to find fearless photography. Post production and all.