PhotoShelter Rocks the Broadway Studios

Yesterday I attended PhotoShelter’s Photography 2.0 town hall meeting in San Francisco. (Eventually the PhotoShelter crew will have some video from the meeting up on their blog along with the videos from the other city meetings.) Considering this tour was part of a larger marketing event to help PS launch their new stock agency called PhotoShelter Collection, it was very subtle on the launch aspects and heavy on trying to be a real town hall discussion. Maybe I’m more attuned to the marketing aspect of companies due to how long I have been involved in it on the inside. But the PS team did a good job of keeping it focused on talking about photography today from both the photographer’s side of things as well as from the image buyer’s side of things.

(One suggestion for the PS Marketing person who coordinated this event: get some wireless microphones and have a few people stationed in the audience with them so the audience can use them to ask their questions. The single microphone up by the stage just doesn’t cut it…)

It was great to listen to Michael Zagaris talk about his life experiences behind the camera. He presented a number of photos from his collection and told his story behind each photos (including a number that were taken in the Broadway Studios building during it’s punk rock era). It was more than just talking about what the photo was, but the situation behind the story and the significance of the image from both the cultural as well as personal aspect. His telling of how to capture those inside moments of an event or group that we, as photographers, may have access to that no one else will was priceless. Later, during the panel discussion, he provide my favorite quote of the event:

“The payment for me has always been in the doing. I didn’t get into [photography] for a job.”

The core aspect of that sentiment was shared by Michael Jang and most of the photo buyers on the panel. Be yourself with your photography. That is what viewers and buyers of photography are looking for. A style. Your style. If anything, the digital age of photography has not only lowered the bar of entry, but also increased the visibility and proliferation of styles. It’s so easy to see and try to copy someone else. Doing this to help push yourself to try something different is one thing. But we all have to remember to add ourselves into the photos.

This is where the constant challenge comes if you are trying to make money from your photography (or photography is your only income). How to keep you in your work? I liked Michael Jang’s comment of “take a year off to go do something you want.” as well as the general sentiment from the photographers on the panel to get paid to create the images for the client but also try to take some time (or as much time if you can) to create images for yourself as well.

During the mingling and chatting between speakers and at the end of the event as well as during the panel discussion, there were two recurring themes that jumped out at me (one obvious the other missing). The majority of the conversations always seemed to revolve around technical aspects of the photography. The technical requirements for shooting stock, the best tool for this, or for that. While talking with David Sanger, a lot of the discussion tended to revolve around the online selling and marketing of images (which David has been doing long before there were companies doing it). And during conversations with PS’ Allen Murabayashi, and Grover Sanschagrin, the conversations always revolved around the technical bits and bites of how PS was implementing the PhotoShelter Collection.

What was missing were more conversations about the business of photography. Occasionally there were talks about rights managed versus royalty free. Or model releases and location releases. But I didn’t hear anything about how to break into new markets. How to increase your market awareness. Even when the Creative Director from a major advertising firm was taking questions there were few questions for her about her half of the business of photography. And when photographers were talking to the PS folks about their new offering no one was asking ‘how they were going to market our images to increase the sales of those images?’.

Overall, this was an great event to attend. If you have a chance to attend the last one in Los Angeles I recommend doing so. I also recommend checking out the videos of the past events on the PS Blog. And it’s refreshing that the PS team is taking a much more open and transparent approach to their business than most other stock agencies. The PhotoShelter Collection is something that I will be doing more research on personally over the next few days.

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