Steve Cole has been one of the poster child for stock imagery, for iStock & Getty Images in particular. His images made it everywhere in the world, from bill boards to books to websites. Some of them were selected for Getty's Prestige collection, one of the most prestigious image collection in the stock market these days. Besides all that, Steve is a great human being with a wicked sense of humor. We are delighted he agreed to answer some questions for us.
Amos @ MyStockPhoto.org: Steve, you are an exclusive photographer and videographer with iStock and the Getty Images family. Why did you decide to become (and stay) exclusive?
Steve Cole: For me Getty images has been a leader in the stock world for the past 20 plus years, it’s an easy choice. Getty/iStock has allowed me not to be just a contributor but also to be able to work with and along side their very talentedart directors, editors & creative staff, it’s a win win for both of us. Also I enjoy being an inspector for iStock. It is much more than just looking at other photographers pixels, it has a lot to do with being educated looking for copyright issues within other photographers images. It also allows me to be more than just a photographer/videographer, I like being a part of their team.
Do you ever feel limited by that choice of being exclusive?
One big advantage of being exclusive at Getty/iStock is that when I upload stills and videos to iStock the better assets are mirrored to gettyimages.com. I upload only one time and my images & videos go to two different markets plus I receive a best match advantage for being exclusive and also receive a royalty boost. You hear of other photographers uploading to several different sites but they receive a smaller royalty, no best match and it also takes a lot of time & energy to upload to several sites.
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What do you do to mitigate the risks of having all eggs in one basket? Do you do a lot of work outside of stock imagery?
I do not ever feel my eggs are in one basket, every image & video I have at Getty I own outright, if for some reason things go south at Getty I simply would upload my assets to another stock company. As far as other work, I prefer to focus my time shooting stock still & videos along side inspecting for iStock, but when a call comes in I rarely turn down a commercial job, most of my jobs are commercial videos & stills shoots for various major companies like Home Depot, Tanger, Rubbermaid & recently Calphalon.
You are closing in on the Black Diamond, the highest download rank an iStock contributor can achieve. Do you regret that this is still prestigious but has no financial impact anymore these days?
I’m closing in on Black Diamond, wait a min…. mmmm, ok super cool! Yep your right, I do consider it prestigious & proud of it, considering I have only 5000 images at iStock, and growing.
How do you see the market for stock imagery? Where are we at, where are we moving to, and how do you position yourself in it?
Great question, although I am not an analyst I just use common sense. I started shooting stock over 15 years ago & it has been very, very rewarding for me over the years. My personal sales are not what they use to be due to the fact that there are more stock photographers in the market than anytime in history. Where to next, for me it’s video, a slowly moving market that I feel will continue to grow, I see videos everywhere, on the first page of companies www sites, www banners, of course clips in TV commercials, clips telling a story in less than 3 seconds, if you cannot communicate the concept in a video in 3 secs or less then that’s a problem. The internet speed over the years has also allowed video to be more intuitive for web marketing. People like to see new more interesting advertising & I feel video is great way to do that.
If a newbie would come to you and ask if it is wise to enter the stock image market today, what would you tell him?
For me I was very lucky, I am a third generation photographer & I had my own complete darkroom by the time I was 12 years old. I was lucky in life because I found my real passion in life at such an early age & I have never looked back. I say if you have a passion for creating images either still or video then follow your passion, nothing else matters.
And for the more seasoned pro doing it for many years, any advice for her/him?
Focus your energy on your number one asset, and it better not be your camera, computer or other gear, it better be your creative ideas & concepts along side your production skills. The ability to find great locations, using better models, better props, working with a stylist and/or art directors and simply better planning to get more images out of a shoot. I always start out with a pencil & sketch pad, brain storming, writing ideas down on paper no matter how silly or bad they may be, other ideas will continue to develop & before you know it you will have not only have better concepts but walk away with more images after the shoot.
What's the technical setup you typically use for your shoots these days? What kind of camera(s) are you using? What lighting?
Currently I’m shooting with a Sony fs7 4K video camera for “most” shoots. Shooting with a 4K camera allows me to shoot in 4k video & grab frames from the video for stills. Of course it has it’s limitations but I still carry my canon 1DX on all shoots. I also take advantage using natural light when ever possible & if I need light I love the new LEDs flex light from westscott. If I am in need of strobes I use profoto B1 battery power lights. My other grip gear for video is all kessler, slider, pocket jib, etc… Computer I use a six-core for mac pro with 2 NEC monitors. For the hard drive I use Promise 12tb raid & g-technology drives for backups, one backup is always offsite.
You have gone through a hard time in your personal life last year (Steve's house burned down). You have stayed very positive throughout all of this – at least this is how it appeared to the outside. How are you doing today? Did this put things into perspective for you?
Very rough time for myself & my wife that started at 2:15am the morning of May 30, 2014 – we were asleep in bed & the smoke alarm went off. The fire was already out of control on the opposite side of the house, we had about 3 min to get dress & get out. It took the fire department only 10 min to get there, but not much they could do to save anything. After 25 years of collecting family heirlooms, furniture and irreplaceable items, are were gone. We even lost 3 beautiful pets. I also lost a lot of photo equipment, all computers & hard drives, I did have one off site BU that saved 99% of all images. I would like to add that you should also have a BU copy of any paper model releases off site. Did this put things in perspective for us? Big time! We are “forced” to start our lives over with nothing but the clothes we had on. Looking back most of the items that were lost was just “stuff” – the family heirlooms will be greatly missed but we still have each other. We are in the process of building a new house complete with a separate studio & we will be gradually filling the house with new furniture & new family heirlooms along with new toys for the studio.
Steve, thanks for agreeing to share your thoughts on the market. It's an honor to learn from one of the master minds of stock photography.
We wish you and your family all the best for the future and success in the business.