Reading: Taking Stock – Why Visual Content Matters
Taking Stock – Why Visual Content Matters
The words “stock photography” generally elicit a strong negative reaction for the aesthetically inclined amongst us; that’s because traditional stock photos give more cheese than a bag of Doritos, and are equally unhealthy, serving up more than anyone’s daily-recommended intake of toxic stereotypes. Luckily Stocksy is proving there is an approach to stock photography, which beautifully dodges the all too common tropes and successfully disrupts the current business model.
This is the new way to shoot stock – below Kynan Tait, Stocksy’s Video Content Director explains why.
How is Stocksy radically different than other stock photography/video websites?
We’re smaller and proud to be. We prefer the quality over quantity approach, putting aesthetics and curation in the forefront. Nobody enjoys looking at traditional “stock” websites – people do it because they have to but I believe you could get lost in our collection quite happily.
We’re also a co-op which means our artists own the company, receiving dividends at the end of the year on top of receiving 50-75% royalties on their sales. They are more involved in the direction and strategy with us than they could be with the larger agencies.
What makes a visually compelling stock photo? How does that differ from video?
Nothing more than what makes a compelling photo otherwise. Stock doesn’t need to be, nor should be, its own category separate from fine art or commercial photography. It was the creation of that category or style that made “stock” such a cringe-worthy word in respected design communities.
There are photographers and agencies out there that will continue to throw a model against a backdrop and dress them in a number of outfits and uniforms, have them play with as many props as possible and sell them to clients looking for a quick, cheap turnaround that satisfies all their search keywords. I’d consider that a soulless endeavour that bears no relation to why any photographer started taking pictures.
Video is no different. We’re inspired when we see real life or surreal life, even. Genuine moments, interaction and aspiration. People are inspired when they see something made with passion or created thoughtfully. I think that’s universal – from people to clients, buyers and large billion-dollar corporations alike.
People love to throw around the word “authentic” so much it loses any sense of meaning. Does this word resonate with Stocksy and if so what the hell does it actually mean? How do you avoid the terrible tropes associated with traditional stock photography?
“Authentic” does have meaning but it’s been abused like any other buzzwordy catchphrase of the moment. I like to think it resonates with us as it always has though we avoid using it as much anymore.
The terrible tropes that everybody thinks of when they hear “stock photography” are not likely to go away so long as people are buying them. It’s bizarre to me but if there weren’t a market for it, it wouldn’t exist.
The only way of combating that stigma is for us to exist and to show people there’s a marketplace for something a little more real.
How has the industry changed since Stocksy launched?
In many ways, distribution has become easier but monetizing has always been a challenge in the arts.
We’ve seen a concerted race to the bottom, mainly to satisfy the all-you-can-eat subscription models that consumers prefer but the unfortunate by-product of these models is a devaluing of the product and a sharply declining royalty rate. Unfortunately, due to these unsustainable business models, production suffers which leads to degradation in the quality of the product. The freebie stock libraries certainly aren’t helping here in either respect.
At Stocksy, we’ve been trying to find the balance to keep prices accessible while paying our artists as much as we can so they can continue to produce content that they love at the quality that will continue to push the definition of “stock”.
Why is now a great time for video and videographers?
Technology has never been so accessible and cheaply available as it is right now. Without much risk, anybody looking to express themselves in photo or video can do so with a quality that only ten years ago, would run them into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
What trends are you seeing? Time-lapse? Drone? Go-Pro? 360? Pastels? Sunsets?
Drones are likely the biggest trend at the moment. It’s a novelty that’s hard to deny and it’s still so new that it’ll probably stay that way for a while yet. Most consumer drones are capable, though not set up to shoot cinematic video out of the box – so the challenge for us has been to push our artists to not be distracted by the novelty and to instead, think of them as they would any other camera.
Time lapses and sunsets will always be there but we try to be as selective as we can with those as they’re available en masse everywhere else.
What are the challenges that are unique to creating stock video vs. still images?
Dealing with models is already a challenge but working with actors — their motivations, actions and hitting their marks — only compounds the issue. Motion also adds the challenges of shutter speed/angle limitations and smooth, intentional and motivated camera movement. It can be a lot to consider.
Thinking about all these elements while simultaneously trying to direct your actors is extremely challenging. It’s why most directors aren’t also operating and shooting their movies — they’re two distinct disciplines and art forms. Some photographers take to this more naturally than others but I don’t think it’s easy for anybody.
Where do you see the future of stock video? What about AR or VR?
I can’t think of an application for augmented reality given that it’s meant to be just that – reality, in real-time, supplemented with information but virtual reality is different. For marketing purposes, seeing people using VR headsets in various applications (fitness, gaming, medical, education, etc) supplemented by first person video (allowing you to “see” what the character is seeing) can tell a great story with this emerging technology. GoPro cameras are great for this.
As far as creating truly immersive digital realities, I have yet to see it done well. Outside of gaming industries or Hollywood, it might be a bit ambitious on a budget.
Any advice for photographers who are looking to transition into video?
Photographers should already have most of the gear they need and the importance of storytelling is as true in photography as it is in the world of video. I’d suggest some kind of stabilizer or gimbal and a set of ND filters, which are nearly mandatory in video as opposed to being optional for photography.
I recommend browsing YouTube which is an endless well of film analysis and theory. Channels like “Every Frame A Painting” and “wolfcrow” are a couple highlights — and if you search for “cinematic settings for *insert your camera name here”, you should be ready to start rolling in under an hour.
When you’re creatively blocked, what’s your go-to for inspiration?
Old Herzog documentaries, specifically the one Les Blank made about the making of “Fitzcarraldo” called “Burden of Dreams”.
Herzog is both hilarious and a guerilla creative in every sense. It’s easy to spend too much time trying to think of something creative to do when, instead, you should just steal a camera, run roughshod into the world and capture something.
Tell me a joke.
A moth walks into a podiatrist’s office…