Blend “Jade Collection”
Good news, of sorts.
I got an email recently from Shannon, the owner of the stock photo studio that I was shooting for last year. He was congratulating me on one of my photos being chosen for the front cover of Blend Images’s new “Jade Collection”, which is basically the bulk of what his business has produced in China, shot by himself and four other photographers (one of them being me). In total, a collection of 3000 (?) China-themed stock images. The image was also later featured in the Blend’s “Mix Pix” selection for April. In the stock photo world these represent minor successes, second presumably to actually signing the contract to license the collection. But still, always good to get some kind of recognition.
All the better to get some recognition for a shot produced during the course of a shoot which had been considered to be a failure at the time.
What made it a failure ? Simply lack of value for money. As everyone is aware, stock photography very much revolves around money. Sure, some photographers may shoot images out of their own artistic curiosity, which they then try and sell as stock, but the bread-and-butter of this kind of mid-price royalty-free stock photography is money. Will it sell, how often will it sell, and how much it can be sold for ? Thus if you produce no salable images from a day’s shooting, yet still have to pay wages to models, stylists, producers, assistants, drivers, and other overheads, you’ve wasted money, and its a failed shoot.
If I recall, this shoot yielded 18 salable “non-similar” images. If it had been a three hour shoot with two models, and a budget of 1000 RMB, then 18 images of this type would be a decent amount, easily enough to break even. It wasn’t a small shoot though, it was a full day of shooting, with 11 different models hired in total and a total budget of about 5500 RMB. At that price (and with a human cost too – tiring out the support team for the next shoot) I needed to have shot much more than 18 images, maybe around 40-50.
So what caused the shoot to “fail” ?
Obviously as a photographer on-set you take responsibility for making creative decisions about framing and composition which will gain or lose you shots, and its certainly easier to make these decisions when the shoot is going well and you are able to think and plan clearly. Logistical chaos on the set impacts on your ability to concentrate on the creative aspects of the shoot, which is where the production and pre-planning becomes important. In this case, the shoot had been fast-tracked and organised at short notice by a producer who was overworked, stressed and lacking on-shoot experience, and the planning was less than ideal. Sometimes you get away with it, but on this day we didn’t.
Two models had arrived late.
Our van hit gridlocked traffic due to an accident and we were delayed by almost an hour.
One of the new assistants kept sneaking away to smoke a cigarette every five minutes.
Lunch had arrived too early and distracted the models.
The production team back in the studio had been distracted and got sloppy styling the second group of models – they needed re-styled on-set before I could shoot them.
The grandparents who arrived in the afternoon were second or third choice, not great models, unexpressive and stiff.
The toddler in the photo was too young, easily distracted and hyperactive, and he was supposed to be the focus of the whole afternoon.
A conveniently located area of grass inside the park which we had planned to shoot on for the whole afternoon had been dug up and was now bare earth.
We weren’t allowed to bring the bikes we had hired inside the park, despite doing it the previous day without any problems.
Nobody could figure out how to fly the kite.
Melting ice-cream was spilt down the front of the t-shirt of “granny”.
It was one of those days. The morning had gone well, but the afternoon had degenerated into a mess. The whole team had lost focus. I was in damage limitation mode, trying to salvage what I could from the rest of the day.
And so it came to the bubbles… suddenly the kid stopped screaming and hitting everyone, but he still wouldn’t stay in one place for more than a second. There was no chance of me keeping everyone in one place to construct a shot on a tripod – I just had to try and encourage the adults and the kid to play with bubbles for real, then get up close and try to capture a candid moment of emotion in a reportage style. That’s why it look authentic – it WAS authentic. It’s not an efficient way to shoot stock photography though. Most of the shots I took lacked eye focus, or were full of limbs, strange expressions and inconveniently placed bubbles, but by this stage I was willing to try anything, and maybe 1 in 100 shots worked.
Overall, it turned out to be one of my less productive shoots. Shannon “did the maths” on cost per image, based on expected sales figures, and reckoned he had made a loss on the shoot. My wages were also affected, seeing as I was being paid per selected image.
However, now that “Chinese family blowing bubbles in the park” has been promoted and publicised heavily on Blend, it might well become one of the Jade Collection’s highest earning images. That one image might mean that shoot day eventually breaks even, but it won’t change the fact that I personally earned very little from the shoot.
Which is why if you are capable of regularly producing images which are likely to get chosen as “images of the month”, you might want to think about your salary not being commission-based and rewarding quantity, but instead a sales-based royalty system which rewards quality. Actually, I probably had other days where my shooting leaned more to quantity rather than quality – e.g 35 fairly “standard” testimonial portraits in one 5-hour shoot, so it probably balanced out in the end. It’s definitely something to consider though.
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