Reinvention: Ron Rovtar Goes From Stock to Real Estate

Posted on 7/15/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Photographers need to be prepared for and anticipate career change. It has become highly unlikely that what someone starts out to do in his 20s will be what he is doing in his 30s or 40s—and certainly not at the end of his career. Often, the necessity for a change will have been impossible to plan for or anticipate. But photographers should recognize that there are many ways photography skills can be applied in a satisfying way to many quite different careers. Stock photography has an additional advantage in that revenue can continue to flow from images produced long after the photographer has moved on to something new.

Consider the career of Ron Rovtar, a successful stock photographer in the 90s, now happily selling real estate and using his photographic skills to photograph architecture. How did he get there? Ron majored in philosophy in college, but decided that, at best, he would only be a mediocre philosopher and turned to journalism. He began his career as a news and feature writer, but also did some photography. After freelancing for a few years, he was hired a full-time by The Columbus Dispatch. He worked there for five years, and was one of the few writers allowed to shoot illustrations for their stories.

Next, Rovtar switched from writing to concentrate on photography and did a lot of commercial, a bit of editorial and some public relations work. In the late 1980s, the demand for stock images began to grow rapidly and Rovtar decided to pursue this aspect of photography more aggressively. The freedom of being able to shoot what he wanted, when he wanted, appealed to him as it did to many others at that time.

In 1991, Rovtar signed a contract with FPG and started actively submitting images. He also signed a contract with Photonica in 1992. By 1994, his stock work was generating enough revenue that he was able to stop promoting his availability for assignment work and put all of his energies into producing stock. When his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, in 1996, he gave up assignment work altogether.

Rovtar’s stock revenue started trending downhill after Getty Images acquired FPG in early 2000. Getty accepted very few images compared to what Rovtar had been able to place with FPG previously. The company was also doing wholly owned shoots and giving priority to those images. In addition, Getty was pushing royalty-free over rights-managed images, making the costs of producing new images a problematic proposition for a photographer committed to the rights-managed licensing philosophy.

However, as FPG sales declined, Photonica’s increased—until September 11, 2001, which had a huge impact on Photonica’s sales. This collection was built around artistic, creative and edgy images that were often viewed as pieces of art, rather than concept illustrations. Before that date, advertisers had been willing to test risky ideas and make use of more artistic images—the kind of images Rovtar had been producing. Afterwards, art directors became incredibly cautious. Photonica tried to adjust the look of its collection but seemed unable to maintain a reputation for unusual imagery while catering to this new reality.

In 2004, Rovtar moved to the next phase of his career and launched Stock Asylum, an online newsletter aimed at supplying stock photographers and agencies timely information and analysis on the changing industry. His newspaper experience, writing skills and photographic expertise enabled him to produce outstanding editorial content. But as most online newsletters founded at the time, Stock Asylum was designed to be supported by advertising. After four years, it became apparent that there would not be enough advertising to support the full-time effort required of Rovtar to produce the quality product he was offering, and that it would take too long to develop a good subscription base.

Looking around for something else to do, real estate seemed a good fit given Rovtar’s previous experiences. Marketing is very important on the listing side of real estate. Listing realtors rarely have personal contact with buyers. Listing agents must get their message out through a number of indirect avenues, such as Internet real estate sites, local multiple listings service, newspapers and materials left in the home for buyers and their agents.

Most real estate agents are salespeople, more comfortable with direct client contact than marketing. Many agents lack good communications skills. In contrast, Rovtar had a good grasp of marketing, having marketed his own businesses, and worked on the commercial side of photography, which is all about marketing. He also studied marketing in an effort to do a better job at his other endeavors.

Rovtar no longer seeks photo assignments, but shoots architectural images for his real estate business. “Architectural photography is a new challenge. I am still learning and have lots of room for improvement, but I believe my first attempts are better than 95% of what other agents are using as a result of my background and previous experiences. It is also fun to be shooting a subject that challenges me a bit,” Ron said.

“Real estate is a big jump for me. As with most new businesses, getting it going is taking a while. The thinking that went into the decision was pretty simple. I already possessed the photography and writing skills that are very useful in selling homes, and it is an area where I can really offer something of value to my clients,” he concluded.

Copyright © 2009 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:  


  • Jagdish Agarwal Posted Jul 16, 2009
    The world needs images, quality images and lots of them. Photographers who are able to keep their heads above water, during these times, will emerge as winners.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff