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 In addition, to save filing space, many photographers threw out extra “baggage” of “outdated” images.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.)
Unfortunately, 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.
“Today, I’m making more money from those pictures than I did back when I took them,” says Flip. His books and photos about Martin Luther King Jr. have brought in six figures. A recent sale to a major TV network for a TV special, netted $24,000 in one month.
He also is authoring a St. Martin’s Press book about Muhammad Ali. He is working with The University of Minnesota and Macalester College (where he graduated) in St. Paul MN on a CD-ROM featuring his photos of Dr. King.
“Stock photographers should realize that their editorial photos serve as a pension, an annuity, as you get older. When you’re an editorial stock photographer, everything becomes history,” he said.
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. Flip Schulke warns that every photo has historical significance. “Hold on to your photos. They are your future social security.”
Rohn Engh is director of PhotoSource International and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. Telephone: 1 800 624 0266 Fax: 1 715 248 7394. Web site: http://www.photosource.com/productsPublished here courtesy of Ray Baker. By the way, here’s where you can get your downloadable guide to your own Photography Business – it’s dedicated to coaching you on how to start your own photography business but places emphasis on profitability issues & guidelines. You can also gain photography insights, help (mostly free) or even a Digital Photography Tip or two. You can also easily access brief reviews on services or equipment at photography equipment