Keys To Success in Production Stock

Posted on 8/4/1999 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



August 4, 1999

    Jon Feingersh is represented exclusively by The Stock Market and is one of the

    world's most successful stock photographers. Somewhere in the world one of his

    images is licensed for use every hour of every business day (that's 18 uses per

    business day). He focuses all of his efforts on stock production and hasn't done

    an assignment in more than seven years. Jon specializes in photographing people in

    business and life style situations. All marketing, negotiating and sales are

    handled for him by his agent. The following are his 23 keys to success in

    production stock photography.

Jon Feingersh

Copyright 1999, all rights reserved

Many photographers have been called by the siren song of stock. some become

fabulously successful, eventually becoming free of the tyranny of constantly

searching for assignment work. Others bomb out frustrated after a few months or a

couple of years. What separates the successful stock shooter from the one who

quits after just a few months? The following are just a few keys to becoming a

success in producing stock photography.

1 - START TODAY!!! The journey of one thousand miles begins with the first step.

Put a shoot date on the calendar and keep to it! Treat it as you would an

assignment from your best customer. Put another on the board two weeks from now,

and keep doing the same. Try to work up to 50 self-assignments per year.

2 - INVEST IN YOURSELF. When you attended college, you were prepared to make an

investment in yourself. Do the same now. Plana to invest at least $5,000 for

shoots the first year, double that next year, and keep increasing as you can.

Pretty soon you won't be spending those large sums for self-promotion anymore.

3 - PUT IT IN WRITING. Write yourself a business plan and stick to it. Not what

you intend to shoot, how often, how much you can invest, etc. If you feel you're

losing your way refer back to your plan. Set high standards and goals. When you

achieve them, set higher ones.

4 - BE PATIENT. It takes a long time to see results.n At the very least, a year.

Often, much more than that! Be prepared to work without any feedback, compliments,

income for at least two years before judging results. Probably 90% of the

photographers who think they want to pursue stock will bail out within the first

two years.

5 - STUDY THE MARKET. Become aware of current media trends and what they tell you

about the future. Don't copy other's work, but realize that if you have seen a

concept in a national ad, it has probably gone through many layers of agency

approval, focus groups, test marketing, etc.

6 - START A CONCEPT FILE. Clip magazine ads religiously, and add to your files

constantly. On those slow days when you can't get jump-started, go to your file

and find inspiration. Look at the ads for clues as to trends, stylistic changes,

gesture, cultural movements which should be mirrored in your stock photography.

Again, don't copy! Use these as a resource to learn more about what your photos

might need.


blockbuster TV shows, major golf tournaments, etc., as these have the highest

production values and should indicate what the print advertising market also needs.

Become aware of gesture, proxemics, and symbols. Watch TV and movies with special

attention to how people relate and interact. Think of yourself as a film director,

not just the cameraman. Your best frames should look as if they've been taken out

of a film, with equally good action in frames on either side. Try to give your

images the "Breath of Life" that will separate them from other photographers'


8 - SHOOT MODEL-RELEASED PEOPLE. The photography which is most in demand is the

best way to make your fortune in production stock. About model release... EVERY

TIME!!! Come on, don't be silly. You want to be big time, or not?

9 - PLAN AND REVIEW YOUR SHOOTS. Pre-production storyboarding, or a listing of the

shots you want to accomplish will enable you to be more productive on your shoots.

A post-production review lets you see where you can improve.

10 - SHOOT VERTICALS. Okay, sounds silly, but few photographers will do so unless

forced. Many, many sales are lost because the subject wasn't shot both horizontal

and vertical.

11 - AIM FOR THE TOP. Set your sights high. Do enough great work that you will be

accepts by an agency with national and international significance. Even if you are

not successful, your work will be good enough to dominate a smaller agency's files.

12 - READ CONTRACTS CAREFULLY. Don't get caught in a situation which will make you

unhappy. Don't get stuck in an agency which doesn't deal fairly with its'

photographers. Make sure you control your images. Make sure you have the ability

to extricate yourself, if necessary. Hire a good lawyer to be sure the contract is


13 - LISTEN TO YOUR AGENCY. Become a creative partner with your agency. Study

their want lists, talk to the researchers and editors about what they need and what

is current. Styles and needs change, be prepared to change with them. Constantly

ask them how you can improve your work.

14 - SPECIALIZE. Learn what your are and develop them, all the while keeping in

mind what the market needs. Target the market accurately. The best way to become

significant in your agency is to be a specialist.

15 - STRESS QUALITY. You're now competing against photographers who are used to

shooting big-budget campaigns and annual reports. Only the highest production

values will do. The best way to fail is to scrimp on costs. If you can't afford

to make your photographs big-budget, just be sure to style and construct them so

they look as if they were.

16 - VOLUME, VOLUME, VOLUME. The most successful stock photographers do it on a

production basis, and have tens of thousands of images in the files. Commit

yourself to produce continuously. It will take a few years before your earnings

catch up to your efforts. The payoff will begin when you have a critical mass of

photos on file.

17 - HIRE HELP. If you can't do it yourself, hire people who can help you. A

production coordinator, stylist, extra assistants, etc., will help you do a better

job, and lead to better sales. Get a good computer program to label slides, and

hire an assistant to slap them on.

18 - FORGET MONEY. After taking a businesslike approach, remember that being

concerned with MONEY ONLY will stultify your images. Think about your hopes, your

craft, your vision, your particular viewpoint on our culture. Try to remember

those creative impulses which made you wish to enter photography in the first

place, and photograph accordingly.

19 - CHOOSE THE RIGHT AGENCY. Choose the wrong one and it's death! The right

agency will treat you fairly, pay you on a timely basis, feed you ideas, grow with

the field. The wrong one will not be a player on the playing field of the future,

will cheat you on sales (or not be able to pay you at all), tell you un-truths

which won't further your career, or will take in your work and then never sell it.

20 - DON'T COPY OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS' WORK. Be true to yourself and your own

vision. Don't try to obtain every stock agency catalog and use them as shooting

scripts. Those photos have been in the files for years, and the researchers and

clients are already tired of them. The stock photography market and the country's

demographics change so rapidly that those photos are way out of date. The best way

to be successful is to BE ORIGINAL.

21 - LOOK FOR NICHE MARKETS. By now our country's changing demographics have made

most agency files obsolete. This is especially true for the ethnic markets. These

markets need a constant supply of fresh imagery, well shot and well targeted.

22 - KNOW WHO IS BUYING YOUR WORK. Realize you are no longer shooting for

yourself. The photo buying client doesn't care in the slightest about your

beautiful photo. All they care about is advancing their product or service.

Although your work must be desirable and worthwhile to all of the various

decision-makers in between, the ultimate buyers are the consumers, and your work

much be tailored to be acceptable and resonant to them.

23 - BE ARTISTICALLY FLEXIBLE. Constantly try to find your own creative vision.

Be prepared to change your style if necessary. Try to find a new you out on the

edge of what you thought was photographically possible.

Copyright © 1999 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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