Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

A Dirty Word, Part 3

If you haven’t had the chance, feel free to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

One of my foremost concerns when considering the whole issue of participation in micro-stock was whether it somehow ‘degraded’ one as an artist and if it in any way compromised the ability to sell one’s work.

The first question was the most difficult one in my mind. Does selling the same image in (hopefully) large numbers for a relatively low price change the way one perceives themselves, the way others perceive them, or the way their work is perceived?

Several things became clear to me as I did some research about micro-stock and took time to peruse various micro-stock sites to see what images tend to sell. For one thing, what sells best is not what one would call traditional fine art photographs. Buyers are looking for images that convey a single simple concept or idea. At times they are looking for backgrounds. Photographs with people in them are the biggest sellers (of course, you need a model release for every identifiable person in any image). What I believe this translates into is that the mindset for making salable images for micro-stock (or any stock) is very different from fine art photography. I might also add that, unlike the ‘old days’ (or so I am told) when the micro-stocks were looking to expand their inventories and digital imaging was very new, the photographs now available as micro-stock are generally of extremely high quality, from both technical and creative standpoints.

Having discovered these facts, I wondered how they might apply to my situation. The one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to keep shooting things that I enjoyed photographing and not change anything about that to try and participate in the micro-stock ‘phenomenon’. Was there a way, and would it be worthwhile, to participate if my goal was to continue with primarily nature photography while continuing to approach making photographs from a ‘fine art’ standpoint?

When I go out photographing, I make many images that I know will never ‘see the light of day’. By that I mean that they are not necessarily interesting enough to spend the time on that perfecting a print would necessitate. In fact, many of these types of images were made for my own personal enjoyment, just to see what they would look like and, while I found the experimenting worthwhile, they are not necessarily the types of images that one would hang on the walls for display.

What types of images am I talking about? I have many images of abstract flowing water, sand patterns, rock patterns, leaves, and grasses. I have many landscape images that were used in the process of working up to that ‘strongest image’ possible that I will never print by virtue of the fact that they are not the strongest compositions from a particular location. These are the images that I felt I could potentially sell.

I guess the ‘cat is out of the bag’ at this point, and it is apparent that I decided to give micro-stock a try. Overall, I concluded that for me it was not ‘degrading’ as an artist because:

1) The images I initially decided to sell are ones that I enjoyed making but had no plans to make prints from or to sell as fine art photos.

2) It seemed silly to let these images sit on my hard drive and have them ‘never see the light of day’.

3) Many of these images were in purgatory! By this I mean that I took them because they were either experimental or I was interested in them from an artistic standpoint, but, given limited time, I was not processing them for the reasons I previously mentioned.

4) I was really curious to see if they would sell.

There was one other issue that concerned me. What if, at some point, I wanted to do a series of these abstracts and either sell prints, sell them in a self-published book, or submit them to a magazine for publication? Well, after thinking about this, it didn’t seem like any of these things couldn’t be done simply because the image had been sold through a micro-stock agency.

To go out further on a limb, what if I wanted to make a ‘limited edition’ print series of one of these images in the future? This is where I think there might be differences of opinion. I do think that there is a very significant difference in a limited edition print optimized for and printed on fine art watercolor paper that is signed and numbered by the artist and the same image used in an ad or pamphlet. Moreover, I think that any buyer would recognize that difference.

I am hoping these musings are of interest, though the fact that there have been very few comments makes me wonder if I really should have started this series after all!

Next installment……where are these micro-stock companies and how much can you make?