David Sanger has always had a yearning for travel, ever since he first emigrated from the UK to the US at age seven. Combining that with a successful stock and editorial photography business, however, has been quite a challenge (and accomplishment).
It may seem like everyone’s dream job: fly to India and photograph royal palace hotels, cover flamenco dance in Spain, track down exotic South Africa wineries, follow the Irish whiskey trail to all the maiun distilleries. It’s a life of dramatic sudden shifts: one week sitting in the office uploading images and hassling with Photoshop, the next week looking for a sunrise angle on a Mayan temple in the Yucatan or worrying about the lighting in the OR during cardiac surgery in Vladivostok. Life as a travel photographer is seldom boring, but it’s far more of a challenge than most people realize.
First, of course, there’s uncertainty. One trip began with a drive to the airport, sans ticket, with a (somewhat) shaky assurance from the tourist board that there’d be a ticket to India at the counter. The ticket was there, part of it, but there was a fellow who’d meet the plane in Bombay (at 4am the following day) with the onward connecting ticket! Right! Then there’s a week in Hawaii to cover a hiking story on Maui and rain every single day, unrelenting, pouring rain and clouds. Hiking in the rain just doesn’t excite the readers, nor the editor. But you have to come back with something. There’s midnight drives across the mountains to get back to Prague before the border closes; Mexican museum authorities who tell you you cannot under any circumstances photograph your magazine story without six weeks prior notice, uncertain tracks into the Tunisian desert which, according to the guidebook, lead after 40K to an abandoned Star Wars village (if it is the right track!). Living with uncertainty makes the photography exciting. Getting there can be half the battle.
Second, is the art of showing the feel of a culture and people, getting under the surface, identifying what is unique about a locale and country. Spending time wandering about, watching, looking, taking it all in is essential. In a Laotian Buddhist temple it means sitting on the floor absorbing the ritual for half an hour before picking up the camera, Whether one is mareâs milk in a Kazakh tent or a kava ceremony in Fiji, people are always willing to share and be hospitable if one is respectful. When leading photo workshops across China it was helpful to give each photographer a crib sheet – “yes, no, please, thank you , one through ten” in every language â Mandarin, Uighur, Urdu, Pashtu, and Burushashki. Learning a few words and being willing to day them is a sign of respect as a guest in a country. And it gets smiles and good photos.
Third, is the ability to tell a story. As a travel journalist one is working on behalf of two parties â the subject, whose story you are telling, and the reader, who will hear and see the story. “What am I doing here? What is the story? What do I have to say?” Questions like these are a way to get to get behind the cliché, to get to the essence of a situation. And then the challenge is making images that donât need explanation â that tell it all at a glance, that move the reader.
Lastly, there is the mundane yet critical skills of building a successful business enterprise, understanding pricing and bidding, negotiations and contracts, copyright issues, marketing and sales. The stock photography business has changed completely in the last ten years. Gone are the daily FedEx packages of slides to magazines for photo requests; now on-line search and delivery are expected. For the individual photographer thereâs a lot to learn to keep up.
Over the past fifteen years David Sanger has evolved his business from film and FedEx through the transition to digital capture and on-line sales. His website www.davidsanger.com features over 6500 images in a searchable database.
A key element of David’s strategy is utilizing the power of the internet for marketing and search-based sales. Extensive use of search engine optimization (SEO) techniques targets specific stock photography search terms. The result is hundred of thousands of visits a month to the website and a steady stream of photo requests from as far away as Sweden, New Zealand, France and Chile. Five years ago one would have been thought crazy to suggest that real legitimate photo buyers , i.e. designers, ad agencies and corporate buyers , would use Google to find images. But now such searches are commonplace. Being in position to satisfy a potential customer’s needs in real time can turn such inquiries into real sales and real dollars.
Another way to keep current with clients and interested parties, is by using a content management system (blogging software) to make easy updates to the website. Several RSS feeds are available, covering news, commentary on individual images, and all updates to the site.
In association with Pictopia, a leading digital fine printer, David has also made available his entire collection of images as digital Lightjet fine art prints, with online ordering of framed and unframed images. In cooperation with Google he is also experimenting with their new database product Google Base for print and stock photography sales. A new website library.davidsanger.com is now coming online with Digital Railroad and will offer stock photography ecommerce.
Along with the new opportunities afforded by internet and digital technologies, there are new and forceful pressures on photographers â low royalties, widespread copyright infringements, microstock and wholly owned content. As the current president of Stock Artists Alliance, a global trade association dedicated to improving business conditions for stock photographers, David has been active in protecting the interests of stock photographers. SAA supports the efforts of the PLUS organization to standardize and simplify rights managed licenses. SAA participates in developing emerging digital standards as part of UPDIG. SAA has been active in opposing recent Orphan Works legislation along with ASMP and PACA. For more information on joining SAA see www.stockartistsalliance.org.