The Kung Fu Master of Stock Teaches Grasshopper About the "Obvious"
The Kung Fu Master of Stock was in his garden photographing garden tools arranged in ways to appeal for commercial purposes when Grasshopper wandered in, looking dejected and sad. Master inquired as to why the long face and the reply was Grasshopper was disappointed with the sales in his portfolio.
"Let's take a look at your portfolio" suggested Master and together they huddled behind a laptop screen. "Grasshopper, you have over 500 images in your portfolio after two years and only 83 sales. Can you see why?"
The two browsed through Grasshopper's images. There were dozens of pictures of a cat. Lots of generic buildings from the city. One building, while it had unique architecture, had over 15 images taken from different angles. Then there were generic landscape images, sunset, barns, and multiple images of each subject.
"Master," said Grasshopper, "It seems to me Buyers don't know what good pictures are."
Upon hearing this, Master got up and drew a bucket of water from a well and then climbed onto a ladder and placed the bucket on a limb in the old apple tree. He tied a rope to the handle of the bucket and let the other end hang down.
Then he instructed Grasshopper to pull on the rope.
"But Master! If I pull on the rope I will get a bucket of cold water poured onto my head!"
Master gave Grasshopper a long, hard look, and after a pause, he said, "Are you sure about that?"
Grasshopper looked at the rope for a long time. He walked around the tree several times to examine the bucket at different angles. Finally, Grasshopper went up to the rope, clasped it in his hands, and pulled hard.
Master then sent a wet and shivering Grasshopper on his way and insisted he come back tomorrow.
The next day Grasshopper found Master in the garden and this time he was photographing new plants being planted and fertilizing supplies. In the tree was the bucket with the rope tied to the handle and the other end hanging down. The condensation on the bucket told Grasshopper the bucket was filled to the brim with cold water.
"All right Grasshopper," Master smiled. "Let's look at your portfolio again." As they sat at the laptop Master pointed out how generic snapshots were common to the database which meant the competition was already tough for images that do not sell very well. Master also described how multiple shots of the same things watered down his portfolio. Instead of submitting the best of the best, Grasshopper would submit virtually all the images he took of a scene.
"Grasshopper, you see, if you submit many images of the same subjects, especially with little variation, you really don't have a portfolio with 500 images, your WORKING portfolio consists only of maybe 100 images. Let's say a Buyer wants a picture of a bowl of ice cream. He most likely is going to purchase only one picture. Just submit your best three or four images of a bowl of ice cream!"
"But Master! I'm providing a service to the Buyers by giving them a choice!"
"OK, Grasshopper, let's look at the series of images you have here from your trip to the ocean. See how the picture of your friend fishing with the boat and sunrise in the background has sold three times? It's a very nice image. But none of your other ocean pictures have sold. Your best pictures will get sales, the rest only dilute your portfolio and discourage Buyers when they see your portfolio filled with photographs that are barely acceptable."
"But Master! The other pictures might sell someday!"
"Yes, Grasshopper, I suppose you could be right. It's time for you to pull on the rope that's tied to the bucket in the tree."
"Oh, Master! If I do that I will get another bucket of cold water poured on me again!"
Master, with a serious look on his face replied, "Are you sure?"
Grasshopper, thinking Master was trying to trick him, got up and walked again over to the rope. He walked around the tree every which way, studying every detail with great intensity. Finally, he pulled on the rope. Hard.
As Grasshopper ran off howling from the cold water, Master shouted after him to come back the next day.
It was a beautiful morning in the garden when Grasshopper returned and Master had his macro lens on the camera and was trying to photograph the insects living amongst the plants.
"Master, I've been thinking." A glimmer of hope flashed across the face of the old man. "Master, I saw you photographing flowers a few weeks ago. And I saw those flower pictures in your portfolio. So why shouldn't I upload flower pictures too even if they're common in the database?"
"Young Grasshopper, I enjoy photographing flowers. And yes, I will upload them knowing I will probably never get any sales but I only upload my very best pictures. But you did see me change gears and photograph my garden tools the other day. Beautiful picutres are always a joy to take, but companies and stores that sell and make garden tools need images that demonstrate their products. Stock photography is primarily used for commercial puposes and that should be your focus when building a portfolio."
"Shall we look at your portfolio again?"
This time Master pointed out how many of the images were technically correct but could have been brightened up with a little editing. He also focused on how the portfolio was filled with generic snapshots of cows, dogs, pictures of the park, and buildings.
"Master, I will have to disagree with you. These are great pictures. They have to be if I am to get by the Reviewers. The reason why I don't get many sales is because the Buyers don't find me. Or the search algorithm is flawed. There could be many reasons but it has nothing to do with my portfolio."
Master typed a few keystrokes and then they were browsing in a different portfolio. The Contributor only had about 180 images and 2000 sales. "Grasshopper, can you see why this portfolio is performing much better than yours? Do you not see the quality of the images and clever concepts? Can you see how the photographer has improved over time? Compare the early images with the latest uploads."
Grasshopper sat in silence and after studying a while announced, "Yes, Master, but those are pictures I can take too. He's no better a photographer than I am!"
Master started to roll his eyes but quickly regained his composer. "Grasshopper, do you see the rope tied to the bucket in the apple tree? Go pull on the rope!"
Grasshopper got up and walked over to the rope. He walked around like he was examining the situation but the whole while, Grasshopper kept an eye on Master while a sly grin rested on his face. Suddenly, Grasshopper lunged at the rope and pulled! A sickening series of thuds sounded out as large rocks fell out of the bucket and onto Grasshopper's head!
"Grasshopper!" shouted the old Master. "What..."
Grasshopper suddenly laughed and exclaimed, "Ha! I fooled you, Master! When you weren't here I switched the cold water with rocks!"
Master stood over the young student, watching him bleed while big knots began to form on his skull. "Grasshopper, getting sales in microstock is always about the portfolio. The quality of the images and originality of the concepts will always be the reason for getting sales. Thinking you're a good photographer isn't good enough. You HAVE to be better in a competitive market."
"If you can't look at your portfolio with a critical eye and SEE THE OBVIOUS, then no one can help you improve."
With that, Master walked out of the garden to attend to other tasks. Grasshopper stuck a finger in his mouth and pulled out a broken tooth.
Photo credits: Feverpitched.