Photo Research

John: Patty, your company, Bloodhound, has been in the business of finding existing visuals for various clients for some 98 years now…98 dog years that is. Still, you have been doing this work since 1993. How did Bloodhound come about?

Patty: I was doing production management at a local marketing company and one of my responsibilities was sourcing and purchasing stock photography. I became very frustrated when I would receive hundreds of inappropriate images from the major agencies at the time – 4×5 Superstock, The Image Bank, FPG, Tony Stone, and The Stock Market were the Big Dogs at the time.

That meant taking on a king’s ransom of liability as each original slide was valued at $1500/ea. And I still wasn’t finding what I was looking for. I knew there must be a multitude of sources for existing images, and started to research the various smaller regional and subject specific agencies around the country. I eventually established a significant database and decided it was a service that might be well received by other ad agencies… thus bloodhound was born.

John: You find visuals for clients, but you actually do a lot more than that. What are the full ranges of services you offer your clients?

Patty: Yes, originally we were just about tracking down hard-to-find stock photography, and although the company has evolved, that’s still the main focus. But finding the image is just one aspect of what I do.

I get involved with copyright and trademark clearances, obtaining model and property releases, celebrity releases, and consulting on derivative work and infringement cases. And because I have established an extensive list of photographers around the country and their specialties, clients call me needing help with out-of-town photo assignments.

I have seen a large increase in the demand for stock footage, so I’ve been doing a lot more searches of that nature as well.

John: Can you share your process with us?

Patty: Well, the trick to good stock research is get as much information as possible from the Art Buyer, or creative, as to what exactly it is they’re looking for. It’s very important to be clear on not just the basic content, but on the concept as well. Seeing a layout, getting the headlines, knowing what it is they want to communicate, really helps to eliminate a lot of the second guessing, and it also helps the Art Director better clarify his/her direction.

Once you have the images specifications, you need to ask about budget, turn-around time, or any extraneous issues that might influence the image selection. With that information, you determine the best resources and the best approach to the search. That could mean going on-line to various stock or photographer’s sites, or going to my print library which consists of 15 yrs. of images culled from various printed sources, or calling around to more alternative suppliers. In the end, each search is different and requires a customized approach.

John: I imagine that process has changed significantly over the years. Can you fill us in on what is different, and what has remained the same?

Patty: Probably the biggest change has been the advent of the digital age and Photoshop as a staple of the production process. Once the Web replaced the stock catalogs as the major source of visual content, search engines greatly streamlined the process. And after Photoshop, it became more about finding elements, rather than finding the perfect shot.

In the last 5-6 yrs, I’ve witnessed another change and that is the way art directors produce campaigns. Before, an art director would sketch out a comp with a specific illustration in mind. Now, art directors work more with a concept or headline and then go through the stock sites to see what visual best works. They have a general idea, but are very open to other interpretations. I’ve been asked to do more and more conceptual searches, which I love because it allows me more creative input than just tracking down a specific subject.

John: What do you love most about your work?

Patty: Of course, the best part is being involved in the photography industry, and working with creative people. I spend a lot of time staying abreast of all the cool trends and educating myself on who’s doing what that’s new and exciting.

As far as the actual research, people often come to bloodhound when they have complicated, unusual or urgent image needs. Therefore most projects present some fascinating challenges. I love the “sleuthing” aspect, the thrill of the hunt. And each search is different – the subject could be underwater, scientific, landscape, agricultural, humorous, bizarre… you just never know when you show up, what the day has in store for you.

John: What is your biggest challenge?

Patty: Convincing art buyers and art directors the service is well worth the money. With sophisticated search engines, art directors think they can easily find what they’re looking for by going to major stock sites and plugging in a few keywords. What they don’t understand is the expertise required to do proper and thorough image searching.

They also think because they can’t find it on Getty or Corbis, the image doesn’t exist, unaware of the multitude of excellent secondary or alternative image sources. But times are tough, and I’m finding many ad agencies averse to using any outside vendors who aren’t absolutely necessary. I definitely think you’re seeing that tightening budgets and more urgent deadlines are affecting the quality of the visuals.

John: I would imagine that you must search agencies, individual photographer sites, and do Google searches as well. Doing all that searching, you must have some pet peeves. Can you share with us things that people do wrong, and things that people do right, to get their image seen by prospective clients?

Patty: My only thought there is that I’m surprised at how bad some photographer’s web sites are. My goodness, if you want to be taken seriously, at least in the commercial image market, you need a well-designed web site that reflects the quality of your work. Personally, I would love to see more photographers developing active stock sections on their site, especially if you have a specialty. I know it’s a large financial investment, but ultimately it could pay-off.

John: Do you see Google searches and specifically Google Image search as taking on an ever-greater role in the search for the “right” image?

Patty: Not really. As I work entirely for ad agencies, the quality found on a Google search is seldom sufficient and it’s often impossible to track down the source. If I have a request that is so obscure, like an ID photo of a rare pigweed located only in the mid-west, it can be helpful for more technical subject matter. But for more lifestyle imagery, it’s not a factor.

John: What are some of the most unusual requests you have had?

Patty: Early in bloodhound, we were asked to supply images of ugly babies. Now this required going to smaller stock agencies or directly to photographers as the major stock agencies only had shots of cute babies. And many of these companies had images of the photographer’s baby, which they may or may not have thought were ugly. I had to be very careful about how I phrased the request.

John: There has been an over whelming increase of images in recent years. That haystack is getting pretty big! Is the needle getting harder to find?

Patty: No, I think it’s easier, certainly than when you only had a telephone and a stock catalog. And the search engines are becoming more sophisticated, which makes it a ton easier. I find I’m frequently going to places like flickr.com, photoshelter.com and other photo-share sites and am coming up with a vast array of interesting and innovative work. So for a researcher, more is better…

John: Do you include Micro stock in your searches?

Patty: No, never. I don’t support that aspect of the industry and hopefully mainstream advertising won’t embrace it either. I’ve started to utilize the royalty-free work more often, as the quality has improved and clients often insist upon it.

John: Where do you think the opportunities are for those of us getting our feet wet in motion?

Patty: Lifestyle footage! Good quality, model released well composed lifestyle… and humorous content, always needed. In my estimation only Getty, and to a degree, Thought Equity, are covering this content well and I would love to see more sources.

John: Is part of your job negotiating prices?

Patty: Yes, an important part of it.

John: How has pricing changed in the last several years, and can you predict where prices will head in the future?

Patty: Well, as anyone who’s been in the business knows, stock prices have been going down for quite some time. Certainly, there has been an explosion of visual content since the digital revolution and you’ve got the basic supply-and-demand theory going.

The large stock agencies are trying to compete with each other which has kept the fees relatively standard and they are less flexible when it comes to negotiating. But it remains a buyer’s market. I’m optimistic reputable ad agencies will always appreciate the value of quality work, and are committed to maintaining a level of compensation that is fair to all parties.

The introduction of royalty free and microstock certainly hasn’t helped. Sadly, as younger creative and account people enter the industry, those who grew up with these models, their perception of an image’s value is diminishing. This doesn’t bode well for the professional stock shooter or the fate of rights managed.

John: Speaking of the future, what else can you tell us about what you think the future holds in store for those of us who make our living in stock?

Patty: I see both the commercial and editorial markets moving more and more towards stock. If it’s any consolation, I think the assignment guys are going to continue to take the hardest hit. However, as a result, more of them, as well as amateur shooters, are moving into the stock realm and the industry is definitely becoming over-saturated.

The good news is the demand for existing material will not go away any time soon. My advice is to invest in a really easy and well-designed web site, study up on, and implement, sophisticated site optimization, and focus on a specific area of stock. A narrow focus, such as medical imagery, that’s marketed to medical publications and ad agencies/clients, is a way to stand out and beat the competition.

John: If you were to give advice to someone wanting to license more of his or her images, what would that advice be?

Patty: I love the idea of individual photographers pulling together to market/license their work, although the few collectives that have tried it haven’t fared too well. A company like Digital Railroad had some fantastic work on it, but ended up closing.

Right now, I think some of the hottest and most original work online is found on Flickr and Photoshelter. Particularly, if you’re just starting out in stock, it’s a great way to get exposure and see what, if anything, sells. Getty now touts a Flickr Collection, which are images culled from the site which they feel are marketable.

I find more and more art buyers are going to these alternative sites for innovative work. Basically, my advice is to get your images out to as many traditional and alternative image sources as possible, watch the trends and keep your work contemporary, and try and find a niche which needs filled. That and find a partner with a real job.

John: Finally, do you really have a thing against cats?

Patty: I’m afraid so… they have attitude, upset my dogs and never wag their tails when you come home.

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