In the first agency I worked at there was bookshelf after bookshelf of thick catalogues, neatly ordered, well thumbed and bookmarked with with any scrap of paper that could be found on a Creative Director’s desk. Each piece of paper (if it was lucky) would have a scribble on it written that style which Creative Directors share with doctors – so only they can read it back, and only if they try really hard. Sometimes you could spot a pattern. Post-it notes with a red dot would mark people holding ice-creams, blue dots would be dogs lying on their backs, a black dot for abstract imagery portraying the intangible emotion of confusion and so on… This was a time before digital photo libraries and search engines, it was BI. Before Internet.
These catalogues were published by various houses such as Tony Stone Images and PhotoDisc, each would have it’s own photographers taking pictures on spec or on commissions, hoping that their style and subject was what the advertising and marketing community were after at that point in time, hoping that they could capture the latest trends and that their images would be purchased – the photographer only gets paid if their images are used.
What reminded me of these books was a talk I saw at the recent Design of Understanding event held at St.Bride’s Library just off Fleet Street in London. Lee Coventry, one of Getty’s Senior Art Directors stood at the podium and told us about how Getty has moved with the times. Rather than trying to compete with the many photographers adding their images to photo sharing sites like Flickr, Getty are working with them to build the biggest and best photo portfolio in the world.
Interestingly, whilst they do a large number of creative and highly orchestrated photo shoots themselves, they also scour Flickr looking for the right imagery to add to their portfolio. The reason? Authenticity. A large number of images uploaded to Flickr are taken by amateur photographers and whilst those photographers may assume that their subjects are mundane, they are highly authentic and shot in a way that cannot be re-created or faked in a studio environment.
Lee spent some time showing images with associated keywords that went some way to explaining what it was that she would look for in a picture to include being part of the Getty photo library. If you want to get your images noticed and purchased, here’s my take on what they’re looking for.
[ Search Getty for 'enigmatic' images ]
There’s a song by a band that has a line which goes something like ‘listening to the radio waiting for a song about my situation’. People love to put themselves in the position of others, we love to fantasise if only for a fleeting moment about how it would be to live someone else’s life. If you can frame that in your camera, if you can capture that moment in time which allows someone outside of the scene to read what they want into it and allow them to believe they’re part of that moment, then that’s a great image. A level of curiosity in a shot allows others to read what they want into it.
[ Search Getty for 'authentic' images ]
Every time I see the Spec Savers ads on TV I can’t help but feel that the people wearing the glasses look awkward and uncomfortable. They look like they don’t usually wear glasses. Authenticity is something that’s really hard to spoof and that can be in the form of a family gathering or a picture of genuine surprise. Authenticity can also apply to environments – unless you’re Tracey Emmin it’s incredibly hard to re-create certain places that can take years to build the character that you know and see. Think of a pub you’ve sat in where the landlord has spent 30 years collecting wicker baskets to hang from the ceiling, or a car boot sale full of toot. Trying to create that realness is so tediously time intensive that it’s just not worth while.
Intimate & Familiar
[ Search Getty for 'intimate' images ]
And by familiar, I’m referring to family. This is in part an extension of authenticity. A father playing with his children. A sleeping couple locked in an embrace. A birthday party – showing the sort of relationship and emotion that you can’t fake. There’s something so natural and unhesitant about true passion and feeling that the slightest bit of fakery will make the viewer doubt the authenticity of the moment and that’s something that advertisers just can’t risk, they need to know that you are genuine. An emotional response from someone else’s image is worth paying for.
[ Search Getty for 'local' images ]
For a long time the trend has been to portray a company’s global image but recently, that’s become more focused on the community, on what’s local. If your pictures can give the feel of a locality, they will stand out. There are events that happen only in *your* neighbourhood. What are they? What’s unique about the place that you live?
[ Search Getty for 'bizarre' images ]
Take any of the above and add something a bit Monty Python. Lee showed a picture of a dad in his lounge holding his kids up by their feet – they we all laughing and having fun – this was the sort of shot that is very difficult to fake and orchestrate. The room looked too real, the relationship between the 3 people was too loving but at the same time, it was nicely cropped and technically proficient which leads me to…
A badly cropped picture makes the head tilt. Objects out of focus make the eye wander. Poor lighting makes us squint. Badly cropped people make us confused. There is a need for technical competency in every shot, but that doesn’t have to be as a result of expensive kit, though that can help. You will need to make sure that your images are of a high resolution that can be printed.
Lee ended with an obvious statement but one that’s well worth repeating:
‘When everyone has access to the same technology it’s the idea that really cuts through.’
So if you think your pictures have what it takes, sign up: http://gettyimages.com/join/