Don’t Panic: Part Two

by Heather on April 7, 2010

Look, believe it or not, I’m not happy about the way this has turned out either. Commissioning original work is the best thing about being an Art Buyer and thankfully, at my level, I’m now fortunate enough to work often on big, brand development projects. Most of the Creatives and Clients that I work with value and utilize the creative input of the photographer plus they understand that they need to pay usage. But… I’m worried that those of you who are panicked by the NYT article (and angry at me for shaking up your thinking a bit) are going to be left behind as the stay-at-home mom photographers get a bigger and bigger piece of the market.

Of course let’s keep in mind it is a really big market that’s growing every day. There are images everywhere and as per my point from yesterday, many of them do not make or break the success of the brand. For a really interesting history of one ubiquitous stock shot, and it’s myriad of incidental uses check out the Fair Trade Photographer’s post on this image:

From Fair Trade Photographer

I’m not saying this good-enough philosophy is best practices on the part of an ad agency or a client for any job but I know that in the end, these shots are not worth fighting for. Some of you responded to yesterday’s post by assuring us that you will be waiting to do the reshoot when the client realizes that these images have “failed”. These images won’t fail and they won’t succeed either- they’re just not important enough.

(Of course there are lots of examples of crappy stock photography being used in mass campaigns too. Rest assured, Art Buyers fight this phenomenon, if for no other reason then the risk that any RF or even RM image could be used by someone else. Whenever we buy stock, we try as hard as we can to persuade the client to buy exclusivity (depending on the media buy) and on some accounts, we’ve forbidden our Art Directors from even looking at RF.)

But I also think we need to be careful when we automatically assume that the work of these amateur photographers is inherently sub-par. By what standard? And I’m saying this after many, many years fighting the good fight that
a work…
of art.
Eventually I learned to pick my battles. If the client wanted a RF stock image for use at 1/8 page in a little DM piece that was going out to 200,000 homes in one drop and needed to show a smiley happy picture of a girl catching snowflakes on her tongue… Well it’s pretty hard to argue to shoot that one (believe me, I’ve tried- mostly going at it from the point that we should have ownable images- “hey, let’s at least identify some scenarios that you’d like to use on your DM and FSI’s and even if it’s just generic smiley people enjoying life, we’ll shoot a little branded image library? Anyone?”).

Back to the flickr photographer: I won’t ever have a reason to commission her (because for one thing there is a lot more to photography than just making pretty pictures with your friends and family in natural light situations) but here are a few of Ms. Pruitt’s (the photographer profiled in the NYT article) stock shots that hold up:

To end, I must say that I am saddened to read the reaction to my post by James Worrell who writes:

[HMAb] has a point that not all advertising photography is worth the same amount of money, however I can tell you that in the past year I have been offered too little for a very involved and creative campaign and downright ripped off over one that was just “executional”. In both cases a buyout was demanded, no negotiation.

I do agree that not everything is worth top dollar but what we are experiencing now is a downright assault on fees and usage. It is in my opinion the age old story of Supply and Demand. Buyers of content have the upper hand at the moment and some people, even some great ones, will leave the business as the trend plays out.

This is the same thing I’ve been hearing for a couple of years and I just don’t know what I can do to help on this one. Because of where I work (if you’re an agency who can hire a freelance Art Buyer, you at least understand that you have to pay for good photography), I haven’t experienced this dramatic assault on fees. But I also can’t insist that the client shoot every image. If shooters like Mariano Pastor are offering product shots to own for $250 and my client finds out about it, there’s only so much I can argue that the shot needs to cost 30 times that.

But I do argue with them because I don’t want y’all to leave the business. I need to know that when the good tabletop jobs come up, you will all still be there so that we can really delve into the skill and style that a great photographer can bring to the brand and elevate it beyond the value of a $250 photograph.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jake S April 7, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Heather Morton. Keeping it real.

Don Giannatti April 7, 2010 at 10:52 pm

“But I do argue with them because I don’t want y’all to leave the business. I need to know that when the good tabletop job come up, you will all still be there so that we can really delve into the skill and style that a great photographer can bring to the brand and elevate it beyond the value of a $250 photograph.”

And that, dear Heather, is what we call a conundrum. Thanks for fighting the good fight, and for all you do.

Put me down on the side of optimism. That there will always be that elusive ability of talent, style, personalism. Whether it will be marketable, we shall all find out.

But occasionally I am reminded of ol’ Hank…

“For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.”

Yeah… sometimes.

Bob April 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm

@Don Giannatti

“Well, oh what a feeling
that burns down low
when you ain’t got no where to turn,
or no where to go
It makes me feel like sometimes
I’m outta control
So I’m gonna get wasted
with all my country heroes
-Hank III

These images and style are becoming predictable kitsch.
The style was fresh 10-12 years ago. It’s now prime time Hallmark Cards. (The first time I saw the hair shot was in the early 90′s but much nicer. A stylist I used did it on her cards).

Where we are heading is towards better art for selective (larger) projects. These ideas will eventually be stolen by all the rip-off (reverse engineering) photoblogists, and spoon feed to the *3 fer a buck* hacks. Unfortunately the trouble is not just in digi land. The trouble is our models of consumption and the larger economic models. The traditional (western) middle classes are shrinking in other sectors too.

clay April 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I think one of the biggest issues is that so much is based on a quick solution without taking the bigger picture into consideration. Something our society has become accustom to.
When an agency says to a client “Hey guess what I can save you thousands of dollars cause I just found this guy Mariano Pastor who will give us this shot for 250 bucks. Problem solved”. Unfortunately they’ve just created a huge problem in the long run; the agency is never going to convince that client to spend the money for original photography again.
It’s an collective issue that seems to big to control and out of control. I was just asked to quote on a project that had a decent budget, the project then went from 6 shots to one shot because the client said they wouldn’t spend the money. Then the AB said that if they went with stock it would cost X so the agency was under pressure to come somewhat close to X to produce an original image. In other words my quote couldn’t be to far off the stock price if I wanted to shoot the project.
Both the AB and AD want to shoot the project but the client has been taught that they can get something that will work for cheaper. Problem solved.

Gary Crabbe / Enlightened Images April 8, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Tremendous posts that bring light to the razor’s edge.

Keep up the great work.

Koren Reyes April 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Heather – I’m so glad I found your blog. I so appreciate all this well-written content. You’re amazing.

matt haines April 13, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Unfortunately I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: some photographers need to leave the business, and it will, sadly, be in the most painful way possible. Simple supply and demand. Demand is up, sure. Supply is WAY up. You can thank Nikon, Canon and Apple for that. Everyone’s a (mediocre) photographer. We need to get over the fantasy that everyone wants to pay good money for good photography.

When some really, really talented photographers decide to give it up, the supply of really good photography will be reduced, and the prices will go up. I don’t think the supply of mediocre photography is ever going to go down though. Clients who need images that speak for their brand – as opposed to filler for their blogs – will be with us for a long time. There are just too many talented people waiting to serve them.

(I’m really hoping it won’t be ME who ends up on the street, but we’re all hoping that…)

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