Taking stock

Some random stock photographyBefore my current job as a copywriter, my only experience with stock photography could be boiled down one concept: MS Word Clip Art. Logos, actual photography, fonts – these were so far out of my range of being that, while I knew the MS Word Clip Art sucked, I certainly didn’t go to any lengths in changing my use.

Now, I’m not saying I ever resorted to using the little faux kokopelli character ad nauseum like many of my co-workers were wont to do. But I was extremely sheltered in the idea of using someone else’s artistic material as your own.

Which, as I was flipping through the new Veer catalog, got me thinking.

Is there any less rewarding position as “stock photographer?”

Please. Someone fill me in. I’m begging to know.

How does a stock photographer receive his or her jobs? Are they hired by a company and told to come up with as many situations as possible? Are they given a list of topics for the day (men and women shaking hands, generic football conversation, random people on couches in the middle of a grassy knoll) and told to do it artistically? And non-artistically, I guess, for clients that prefer less risk and more vanilla. Is part of a stock photographer’s job to develop shot lists that haven’t been done before? Or to improve upon the classic “three diversely organized business people looking busy” shot?

Are there stock photographers that specialize in the absurd? In wildlife? In nature scenes, business meetings, city life or farm minutiae?

If I was ignorant of stock photography before, I’m equally ignorant of the process now.

I’m really just curious of how it works. The Veer catalog had page after page of extremely creative photography – the type of images that you’d hire someone to take when looking specifically for a modern edge for your promotional piece. These are photos that take a lot of skill, a great eye, a brilliant idea.

And there’s a good chance that it will never be used.

Thousands of brilliant pictures, few of which have a potential future. Thousands of ideas, wasted. Miles of film, figuratively.

Imagine – you’ve found a great shot. You’ve set up a fantastic background of trees, an old style couch and a young hipster, the hipster lounging with his arms slack, signifying defeat. It’s a neat picture, even if it means nothing. You’re proud of it. It’s different, and it took a while to prepare. You’ve spent two hours setting it up.

Three weeks later, you find out it’s been used in an advertisement for men’s antiperspirant. Even worse, five years later you find out it’s never been used. Ever.

Do stock photographers recognize their work? Do they get credit if their image is used in an award winning campaign, or does the corporate umbrella they work under take the prize? Do they feel slighted? Do they even care?

Hundreds of creative jobs are based on the machine-like churning of ideas, including mine. But it seems that stock photography is largely seen as a faceless venture. So how do the faces behind the cameras feel? There has to be something obvious I’m missing. Anyone?

This was lovingly handwritten on September 24th, 2007