Jeremy Woodhouse Interview
John interviews leading photographers about the future of stock photography and other important issues.
Jeremy Woodhouse Interview:
John: Jeremy, when I look at your stock images it appears that you just travel all over the world and take beautiful pictures. How far from reality is my impression?
Jeremy: That has essentially what I have done over the past 11 years. I laid the ground work in the mid nineties and started feeding Photodisc (this revolutionary upstart of a company which was selling RF imagery) with all of my “amateur” imagery. I had tons of slides sitting around in boxes and apart from representation by one small natural history library (from whom I made very little), I was not earning much money from my photography, but more about this later.
John: What got you into photography and how did you end up as a stock photographer?
Jeremy: I moved to South Africa in 1984 and took a job in my trained profession as a graphic designer. I worked for a couple of years in an ad agency and then moved on to a legal & academic publishing firm where I designed their book covers and promotional brochures. In this position as designer, I had a small collection of books put out by a company called Image Bank, and they were filled with the most amazing imagery. I used to buy these images to use on my book covers - I also knew (and decided) that I wanted to travel and take pictures like these.
Also, I had discovered wildlife and wildlife photography and I was hooked, as I still am today nearly 25 years later.
It took another 7 years before I had equipment worthy of the task. After that I was traveling like crazy to all the wild spots in Southern Africa building my files.
After moving to America in 1992, I had to wait 6 months before I could legally work so I began traveling around my adopted state of Pennsylvania photographing landscapes cityscapes and some wildlife. I would make trips down to Florida to photograph birds and then I would return home and try and get stories published in the various nature magazines with varying levels of success.
While in Pennsylvania I worked for an entrepreneur and he started a small company producing pre-printed brochures which you could run through your laser printer with your own copy added. One of our lines was called Photoreal and we licensed royalty-free (RF) images from Photodisc, a new company that had started up in Seattle. Once I got my head around the concept of RF, I decided that I would produce an RF disc of my own and try and sell it to art buyers. Well, the production was one thing, marketing was a whole different kettle of fish. I bought an Adobe mailing list (at great expense) and eventually ran out of steam and money by the time I had reached the Fs or the Gs, I can’t remember. I may have sold a dozen discs!
Once I moved to Texas in 1995, I decided to send my RF disc to Photodisc and see if they would sell it for me. They wrote back and told me that they would love to have the imagery and that they would like to sell it “on-line” on the internet (I have the honor of having some of the first Nature images posted on photodisc.com). I also have this historical copy of my first statement from Photodisc (and just for the record, I do know how the old-school RM providers felt when this upstart company started “giving away” images as it is happening today with the advent of microstock)
This was my first statement of online sales - royalties for 2 months, a whopping $234! This was back in 1996 and it took another 2 years before I was earning enough money to quit my day job and hit the road and I haven’t stopped since then.
John: Who handles your stock sales, and do you sell any stock directly?
Jeremy: Most of my stock sales are through Getty, Masterfile and Blend Images of which I am an owner along with 22 other photographers. I do work directly with a couple of magazine editors but often it is more hassle that it’s worth.
John: Do you do any assignment work?
Jeremy: Yes, in a way I do, for myself. I set myself projects and I go out and do them. I have never tried too hard to get traditional assignment work as I feel it may detract from the freedom I have to do what I want and go where I go. Gotta say though, in this economy, I wouldn’t say no to an assignment or two!
John: Are there any particular photographers that you find inspirational?
Jeremy: I guess the early influences on my work were Anthony Bannister and Peter Johnson, Brits based in South Africa. Their early book on the Okavango was ground-breaking, and when I look at it today, I am still amazed at what they achieved without “technology”. David Muench and Art Wolfe and Tim Fitzharris were the first Americans that I began to notice.
John: I know you offer seminars and workshops…can you fill in the details for us?
Jeremy: Sure. I think it is easier to give you my blog address to my photo tours:
John: Can you share with us your methodology for work? How do you pick a place to travel to? Do you research the destination and what kinds of images are needed, or do you just go and shoot?
Jeremy: I try to keep up with the hot spots to travel. I read articles in the travel sections of newspapers. I do, or used to do a lot of speculative travel, and that is going places I wanted to see. I always have an agenda - get images of the skylines and urban views, and if there is a good opportunity, photograph the local wildlife. Recently I met a Chinese ape researcher in Japan and after he had shown me pictures of the snub-nosed golden monkey, the species he had been studying in China, I decided that I had to see these monkeys - which I eventually did, twice for 10 days each trip, once in the fall and once in the winter. To round off each trip I spent extra time in Shanghai and Xian photographing more travel-based imagery.
John: How much of your work is “produced” vs. “found”?
Jeremy: Most of my work is found but since I am now an owner of Blend Images, I have produced several shoots, a new concept for me, and one which I really do enjoy. It is a very stressful time leading up to a shoot, and until I am finally behind the camera, I have dreams about everything that could go wrong. I am not really a lifestyle shooter but I really believe that in todays crazy market you gotta do whatever brings in the bucks and not lament the “old days” and how it once was!
John: With the recent changes in the stock industry, consolidation of players, the advent of Micro Stock and the present economic changes, how have you had to change your approach to stock?
Jeremy: I have slashed my global travel budget. I am traveling in the US and in Mexico and I go everywhere by car - and I love it! I still concentrate on the areas that I am good at as I believe it is the type of work which will always sell. I am seeing a big resurgence in RM stock - this past month my Getty RM returns outstripped the RF returns by double which is unusual, but I suspect (and hope) will be become the norm.
John: Do you shoot RM, RF and Micro?
Jeremy: RM an RF. Not going to Micro until the payout is way higher. Seems like an awful lot of effort for little return. I have never compromised my photography. I shoot to the best of my ability whether it be for RM or RF and if I were to start with Micro, this ethic would not waver, but until the herd is thinned out substantially, count me out.
John: What about video…do you shoot any or are you anticipating moving in that direction?
Jeremy: Not really. I am dabbling in timelapse but working on my own as I do, I am stretched pretty thin and prefer to stick to the stills for the time being - not to say that the things that are going on with the 5DMkII and other cameras is not exciting.
John: You have been active in the HDR movement. Is that something you are incorporating into your work in a large way?
Jeremy: I am loving the HDR technique and it had become like another set of filters for me. I am sticking to realism and am producing high dynamic range images which look natural. The funky over-processed look is getting really old, and besides from the ridiculous over-processing that an image requires to get it to a stage where it will pass muster with a stock house, I do not see many of this type of imagery in the traditional libraries. Seems to be the domain of Flickr.
John: Do you have any favorite locations or countries to shoot in?
Jeremy: I have a very soft spot for Africa and if you asked me where I would like to settle and photograph for the rest of my days it would be in Botswana. Australia and New Zealand are also very high on my hit list, and Croatia, I love it there.
John: Can you share a couple of quick tips for more effective travel stock?
Jeremy: Take time to get grounded in a location, check out the book stores, post card racks, see where the “hot spots” are and work around them. Look for new ideas, introduce some of your own technique/style into a location. Use the light, not only the edge of the day light but even midday light can work, especially with HDR. You can beat the contrast big time. Revisit the same locations several times in different light.
John: Are you incorporating social media such as Facebook and Twitter into your business?
Jeremy: Absolutely, isn’t everyone. I am not sure what it is doing for me if anything, but at least my friends can see what I am up to - I have actually sold 3 photo tour slots via Facebook so that has to be worth the price of entry!
John: Is your website important in your business, and if so, exactly what role does it play?
Jeremy: Since I have turned my website into a blog it is a convenient way of keeping in touch, advertising my services, tours, events. I have linked up external galleries to my mobileme account and I try to steer photo buyers to my stock agencies to buy images rather that do that myself. I am a photographer and not a salesman.
John: When you are on a shoot in some remote location, what would we find in your camera bag?
Jeremy: On a straight travel shoot a Canon 1DsMkIII, an EF16-35mm & an EF28-300mm zoom and about 20 gigs worth of cards, and of course my trusty MacBook Pro.
Add lifestyle into the mix and I have reflectors, a EF300mm 2.8 and a EF70-200mm 2.8.
Add wildlife and I lug around the EF600mm f4, a couple of converters and a Canon 1DMkIII
John: Will you share a favorite image and the story behind it?
Jeremy: I shot this image a couple of weeks ago. I had been on a book run down to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico delivering copies of my book that had been ordered. On my way back I stayed with a friend who owns a 300 acre ranch near McCook in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. He had seen a bobcat there in the past few weeks and I decided that I would like to photograph it. It took four sessions in a blind at a specially designed photography waterhole before I got the shots. I was very lucky! Another buddy of mine, who lives down there, has been going for the past two weeks and he hasn’t seen hide nor hair of the cat.
John: In your experience what makes a best selling travel stock photo?
Jeremy: A photo which will immediately make you want to be there. Immediate recognition of a region whether it be an iconic view of simply a “feel”, great light. I include one which is perpetually bought by travel companies, cruise lines, etc (right). I include other images at the end of the interview.
John: What advice would you give someone just wanting to enter the field?
Jeremy: Unless they have strong financial backing and a really strong vision stock photography is probably not one of the most lucrative outlets out there these days. Many of us who were fortunate to get in in better times are still making reasonable returns on our legacy of imagery, but starting from nothing, if you could even get a contract in the first place, and expecting to make a living wage, is a pretty tall order. Certainly keep your day job and photograph in your free time and build a relationship with an agency in this way.
John: Any advice for us veteran stock shooters?
Jeremy: Keep it fresh and in your case John keep it witty.
John: Where next?
Jeremy: I have a project which will keep me busy for the rest of the year - photographing the city skylines of the upper midwest, the north east and the south east and lots in between - then next spring I head west.