Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Story of My Life (so far)

I told my wife that someday I would get my name in National Geographic. My first issue came in the mail and there was my name right on the cover...above the address label!

Now that I have accomplished this important life-goal I'm on my way to the next goal which is selling my photos through a stock agency. I submitted image samples to Alamy, one of the major online stock image agencies, and was accepted. This isn't one of those cheapy, royalty-free $3 an image sites (of course, that's what we use at work). Alamy actually sells licensed images to the big ad agencies and publishers.

Here's a link to my Alamy portfolio:

Stock photography by James+Fisher at Alamy

My photography interest began early. Three of my uncles were either amateur or professional photographers. One of them, Van Fisher, won the local Cleveland area May Show in the 1930's. His work included images of steel workers and scenes of a Buick auto plant. He also taught photography in New York City with Margaret Bourke-White and other famous photographers. Another, Francis Fisher, worked for IBM as an engineer and when Ansel Adams was hired by IBM for a photography assignment, my uncle met him, went to dinner with him, talked photography all night with him and they became life-long acquaintences. My other uncle, Curtis Fisher, was a portrait photographer. During the Great Depression he and his younger brother, Francis, would knock door-to-door in the wealthy neighborhoods on Cleveland's east side to take baby and family pictures.

I graduated from Kent State University's photojournalism school in 1980. It was a good, hard-working program that, at the time, had produced two Pulitzer prize winners (J. Ross Baughmann and John Filo). Also, one of my colleagues at work, Paul Fresty, a Kent State graduate in photo-j, won a Pulitzer in 1996.

You would think that after being surrounded by all this talent I'd have a few awards sitting on my shelf. Not. Most of my career was in running audio-visual and digital technology businesses ( But, a camera has always been near and I enjoy shooting now more than ever.

In the seventies the world was flooded with photographers. Back then it was technology, like the Canon AE-1 and similar cameras, that brought many people into photography. Jobs for new photographers were scare as well because the colleges and universities graduated far more photography students than the market needed.

Today, it is the digital camera, like the 16 megapixel Canon EOS 1s Mark III or the 8 megapixel Canon EOS 20D, that is driving the marketplace. It is incredibly easy to shoot a picture, process and improve it on the computer using PhotoShop and then upload it to one of the low-cost online stock agencies (iStock is one). The photography field is flooded with images right now which has created a buyers market. They are paying less for quality images and are demanding royalty-free rights for their purchases.

Traditional photographers who made their living selling stock photos are getting hammered badly right now. I believe in free markets and open competition so this thing will cycle itself through. The smarter photographers and studios will figure out the new rules of the marketplace and adapt. The pretenders, or amateurs, who are giving away their images for pennies to the cheap stock agancies will fade away. There is no money to be made this way so why would they continue?

In the long run the immense benefits of digital photography will uplift the commercial photographer. Already, they can shoot without film and processing costs, see their results within seconds after shooting, correct and enhance the image before submission, and place images into the online distribution networks within days for review and sale. This was unheard of a few years ago and eventually this is what will save the industry. But the new market forces will make things challenging right now.

Fortunately I have a day job and don't plan on trying to earn a living on photography alone. But I want the opportunity to see what the market decides about my work. Wish me luck (and don't forget to click on that Alamy link).

Copyright © 2005 James D. Fisher
All rights reserved.