Journey Into RF

Posted on 3/22/2003 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



March 22, 2003

Klaus Tiedge is a German photographer who specializes in people, lifestyle and beauty
photography. He started shooting stock about eight years ago and supplied images to Zefa,

The Stock Market, AGE and Premium to be licensed on a Rights Managed basis. In 2000 he was
making a reasonable income from stock for someone who was in the process of building a
file, but he was also open to considering new opportunities.

He made the decision to begin producing stock because he liked the flexibility it offered
relative to doing assignment work. He likes to work hard, but also wants to be able to
take time off, go on holiday or work in his garden when he chooses. He found with
assignment work he had to always be available. He might sit around for long periods of time
waiting for customers to call, and then just when he scheduled time off that's when
someone would call with a job that had to be done immediately. Of course he took the job
because he needed the work and the time off got scrapped. Stock gave him the ability to
control his work schedule.

He was a believer in the Rights Managed approach to marketing stock photography. But he
also had the ability to produce a lot of images and he found that he had trouble getting
enough of his production into the print catalogs that were the driving force in selling RM
images. In addition he was discouraged by the fact that it sometimes took 18 months from
the time he shot an image before it would appear in a catalog.

After a few years of producing RM stock his good friend, Jens de Gruyter, founded a new
Royalty Free company in Germany called Elektra Vision. Jens encouraged Klaus to produce
images for some RF discs. Jens told him RF was the wave of the future in stock
photography. While RF was well established in the U.S. at the time it was still relatively
new in Europe. Klaus was skeptical and didn't think it would be possible for a
photographer to make enough sales at such low prices to earn a reasonable amount of money
for his investment. But, he also recognized that, "I could say I hate RF, but if I don't do
it someone else will." He had lots of reservations, but trusted his friend and decided
that he could afford to spend some time producing RF. "I did it on faith," he said.

Elektra Vision was purchased in November of 2000 by ImageSource, a company headquartered in
the UK. Klaus continued to produce discs for ImageSource. The money for RF sales did not
start rolling in immediately, but there was enough to encourage him that this method of
marketing stock photography at discount prices with very broad distribution had potential.
Klaus calls it the "Wal Mart" distribution system for stock photography.

In two-and-a-half years Klaus has produced approximately 40 discs with over 3,000 images
for ImageSource. ImageSource's total collection is currently about 25,000 images and Klaus
is their most productive photographer. For the first 20 to 24 discs he did all the
production work and picked the subjects to shoot. On most of his recent productions there
has been much more collaboration with his ImageSource art director, Rachel Hotchkiss, who
was formerly with TSM in New York.

While he still does some RM shoots, now 80% of his pictures are submitted to ImageSource.
To see samples of his work you can go to . Despite the low prices of RF
images he now earns more money from RF than from his RM images.
In most cases it takes 2 to 3 days of shooting to produce enough images for a disc with 60
to 100 images. He says that in some cases he can produce all the pictures for a disc in a
single day of shooting.

He finds that ImageSource gets his images to market much more rapidly than the RM sellers.
By virtue of the fact that all the RF images go onto a CD (catalog) he gets many more
images shown than was ever the case with RM. He says, "If I had 3000 images in the RM
market I think I would make more money, but I would never get a chance to put so many
pictures into stock agency catalogs."

Klaus did his first production in Capetown, South Africa two years ago and now works
between Germany and Capetown spending most of his time in South Africa. He said Capetown
offers, "good weather and looks like Europe, but is a lot cheaper to operate. There are
lots of international models available, but they work for cheaper fees than in Europe.
There are a wide variety of locations that give you all the looks you would get in Europe.
There are modern houses that look like they are in Switzerland, Austria or Germany. In
addition there are production companies that will do location scouting and provide
everything you need for a shoot. In short you get a lot of value for your money."

(Klaus says that lots of European photographers are going to Capetown to do their
productions. We are also told that many American photographers are going to Toronto for
similar reasons - to keep their costs down and get more value for their money.)

He would like to do more assignment work, but has been so focused on RF that he doesn't
have much time left to market the assignment side of his business. In addition when he
does get the opportunity to present to assignment clients he often gets the response that
his work is "too commercial". This is confusing because one would think that an art
director giving out an assignment is looking for is someone who can produce commercial
images. When these art directors define what they are looking for in a photographer by
showing Klaus examples they present "very modern, out of focus, artsy pictures." He said
they are the kind of pictures that you look at and ask yourself, "did they do that on
purpose, or was it a mistake?" While he doesn't get many assignments he is not discouraged
because he knows that many people are buying the pictures he produces.

Recently he took a couple months off from shooting to supervise the building of his new
home in Capetown. As this story is released Klaus is on a three-week camping safari in the
game parks of South Africa. When he returns from that he'll get back to shooting stock.

About two years ago he started shooting everything digitally. "Digital changed my way of
working totally," he said. He was shooting with a Nikon and cranking lots of film. Now he
uses a Contex 6cm X 4.5cm camera with a Lightface Back. The problem with this system is
that he is tethered -- "on a leash like a dog" -- with a 10-foot firewire cable to a
laptop. An assistant is running behind him with a laptop as he shoots. This limits his
mobility. Nevertheless, he feels the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. One advantage
is that his assistant and the art director see the image immediately, as soon as it is
shot. When he was shooting film he would often "keep cranking" on a situation just to be
sure had the image. He would take a second roll and then a third just for insurance. Now
after three or four frames the art director will often say, "That's it, you got it,
perfect. Next situation." At first he didn't believe these comments. How could he have the
best image that fast? Now he has learned to trust these judgments and move on to the new
situation. This has made him much more productive.

Klaus tends to shoot fast and move quickly from situation to situation. He said, "I can't
stand to wait around. Often if the models are changing and one gets ready first I start
shooting something totally unplanned just to keep moving. Often those unplanned images are
the ones that make the disc. You've got to be productive."

Anyone interested in contacting Klaus can do so by e-mailing him at:

Copyright © 2003 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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