a bird and a flag

Stock photography has nothing to do with creativity. It is not an art. It does not try to explain the meaning of Life. It tries to communicate. It uses a language, the visual language, to transmit a message. The true and successful stock photographer is, first and foremost, a sociologist. He tries to understand the trends, values, concepts of his time and translates them into a simple image that conveys the message.

Therefore, the success of a photographer is dependent on his ability to be in touch with his time, to feel and understand what people want to hear. or view. It is his ability to be “in fashion” by integrating in his work the captured knowledge of his world and his time. For example, the US youth right now, is crazy about communities and social interaction over the internet. The idea of “exchange” is all over the Web 2.0 and has trickled to product, like the Microsoft Zune, that allow song sharing.
How does one capture such an image ? Well, one exercise would be to photograph everything you do during a typical day. from waking up in the morning to going to bed at night and everything in the middle. You can be sure that for everything you do during your day, they are multiple products associated with it. Thus, thousand of marketers trying to find an image to illustrate it. Because your personal life might be very dull and gray, the next step is to subliming it and strip it of its individuality. No one really wants to see the details of your bedroom. However, they would love to see the concept of a bedroom in the morning. So what defines a bedroom in the morning.
– a bed.
– a low morning sunlight casting shadows through a window.
– someone still sleeping in night attire or sitting on the edge.
– some accessories. alarm clock, slippers, nightgown, table, a mirror.
You now have defined a bedroom in the morning. You could go more minimalist, of course. A close up of a wrinkled pillow in an unmade bed could do the trick too. Heck !, a toothbrush on a white background would do it, since most people associate brushing their teeth with the morning. But do not forget the golden rule: Leave some space for text, at least 1/4 of the image.
Part of the microstock success is due to the fact that they offer exactly this type of imagery, more in touch with the current world, then prefabricated Royalty Free products made by the corporates in their cubicle. Microstocks companies have no control over their content yet sell millions of images per year. Istockphoto has reported 10.5 million images sold for 2005. I am sure a lot of RF and RM agencies would have liked to boast such figures. Why such a volume ? Well, partly because the content is more reflective of what is going around us than those of  conventional stock agencies.
It is important never to forget that the success of an image is in how it relates to us. and by us, I mean the social us. I will only notice an image because it speaks to me, right at me, and who I am. It will answer an immediate need. A photographer should watch all the popular TV shows, surf all the popular websites, watch music videos pay, attention to all the fashion trends and have kids of different age to talk to, all the time. If you communicate with the trend makers, you will have a better idea on what is coming . And communication is, sometimes, all about listening.

The most interesting part is that you do not have to like one of your image for it to be successful. As long as it satisfies a need, it is useful. It becomes a tool , after all, for others to reshape in the exact form they need, to fit space, time and message. It will be cropped, reformatted, smothered with text and published for everyone to see.

There is nothing creative about stock photography. It is just a complex exercise in repackaged sociology with a little dose of cynicism.

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