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Your Editorial Stock Photography Collection, a Hidden Wealth

The first fifty years of editorial Stock Photography were lean years for photographers.

Few photographers imagined their photos were worth much more than the immediate compensation they received from a magazine, book publisher or assignment client.

In addition, to save filing space, many photographers threw out extra “baggage” of “outdated” images. Little did they realize they were tossing away a gold mine?

In the early days, some photographers had special agreements with their publishers or newspaper and magazine editors that ownership of the photos bought, could revert back to them (the photographers) after three years. In some cases it was a shorter period of time. (This was in the days before the revision of the Copyright Law decreed that copyright ownership now stays with the photographer. In its original form the Copyright Law transferred copyright to whoever bought a “use” right to a photo.)

Stock PhotographyUnfortunately, some photographers didn’t take advantage of this kind of agreement provision. They were busy with their other projects and went on to other things, as the photo industry matured. Their original photographs, lying dormant in files at book companies, newspapers, and magazines, were sometimes ushered out by a junior assistant or inexperienced clerk, to make room for contemporary work. What could have been an annuity for a photographer disappeared into the dumpster?

Of course, some organizations had the foresight, manpower, and funds to catalog and save everything. One example is TIME-LIFE. Their files of photos chronicle the life and times of America since 1936.

Several years ago, the then-director of the TIME-LIFE library, Beth Zarcone, gave me a tour of their collection. The count of images totals more than 21,000,000, and before Getty Images bought their archives, TIME-LIFE kept these photos in their climate-controlled library at the base of Rockefeller Center in New York. I saw youthful pictures of Muhammad Ali (13 books have been written about him in the last decade), Frank Sinatra, astronaut John Glenn, Eleanor Roosevelt, and countless others. These were pictures taken by long-gone photographers who never thought about the legacy they were creating.

Not long ago, I had a talk with Flip Schulke, famed photographer of the Martin Luther King, Jr. era, and the subsequent years of political unrest.

He said, “As a young photographer in the 60’s, I didn’t throw anything away. After all, I thought of my pictures as my kids. Who gives their kids away?” As a result, Flip has a deep selection of outtakes from his assignments and self-assignments.

“Stock photographers should realize that their editorial photos serve as a pension, an annuity, as you get older. When you’re an editorial Stock Photography, everything becomes history

Flip pointed out that many photographers might not have the funds to produce their own CD-ROM. One way of getting around this is to donate your collection (with limited copyright) to a university, college or museum that has the budget to edit and make the selection process, catalog the pictures, produce the CD-ROM and promote it. The institution and the photographer then share in the profits.

“Some schools, however, don’t always have the funds to follow through on the complete process. If they don’t, the pictures will sit around in a box, the same way they did at your studio. Choose carefully.”

For present-day photographers, Flip warns that despite the convenience digital cameras offer to photographers and publishers, the process can backfire. For example, a city desk editor will take a card from a digital camera, choose only one or two shots from the photos on the card, say of a fire scene, and then hand the card back to the photographer. To utilize the disk space, the photographer may be inclined to erase the remaining pictures to start on a new assignment. This may save disk space, but it destroys the outtakes that might prove valuable to the photographer’s historical collection.


June 19, 2009 - Posted by | Stock Photography | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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