Archive for March 2013

Why I Quit Getty Images and Why I’m Moving My Stock Photography Sales to Stocksy

Dear Getty, I Quit

Dear Getty Images: I quit.

I just sent Getty Images the email above, which, I think, is how I terminate my relationship with them. Hopefully. I’m not 100% sure, but I can’t seem to figure out any way to do it online, so I’m hoping that email works.

Why am I quitting?

Well, I’m sitting here typing this at 4:56 in the morning on my “vacation,” getting ready to get an early up to the top of a mountain in Idaho to shoot sunrise and I’m not a skier. It’s dark, it’s cold — and maybe, just maybe, with $10,000 worth of camera gear on my back, I’ll get something that works from this shoot. After I shoot several thousand images today I’ll go home and spend hours and hours processing them. Finally, I’ll upload them online and maybe sell some. If I do sell some though, bottom line is I feel that I’m getting ripped off with Getty’s lousy 20% payout.

I don’t care how you look at it, for me, 20% is not fair. It’s too low. I’ve been complaining about it for years, but have just grumbled along because Getty felt like the only game in town for stock photo sales. Artists and photographers *deserve* more than 20% payouts. I understand that Getty has the buyers, that Getty is the 800 pound gorilla, but still, photographers deserve a better split than 80/20 against them.

There are other reasons why I’m quitting Getty Images too though.

Since the Carlyle Group (read their wikipedia page actually, it’s fascinating) has taken over Getty Images, things seem to have changed. Maybe Getty’s parent is trying to wring as much profit as their stock business as they can, but it feels like artists are getting the short end of the stick even more these days.

In the private, closed, Getty Photographers group, managed by Getty on Flickr, there were almost 3,500 replies to a thread about Getty’s deal with Google Drive. Whatever you think about this deal, there are ALOT of photographers who are unhappy at Getty about an arrangement where they receive a pittance for their work. The 20% payout is already pretty low, but when you combine it with a $12 image buy, some photographers feel that was pushing things too far.

The fact that Getty made this deal doesn’t bother me as much as how they’ve handled the criticism from their members over it. The above mentioned thread is now closed and locked by Getty Images. As a result of the thread, a member was banned and removed from the group — this is the second time that a Getty photographer has been booted from this group that I know of. An earlier member Alex Hibbert was also banned for criticizing Getty.

One of the Getty admins in the group, said that the more recent member was booted not because of his criticism, but because he wasn’t respectful with his criticism. I asked the question if respectful criticism would be allowed to stand and was told yes. I’m going to post this blog post into that forum and I guess we’ll see if this is true. For me, while critical, this post is entirely respectful. I’m still not sure it will get to stay there though.

When you start to see a company fighting with it’s contributors, banning contributors, even FIRING contributors, it makes me feel like maybe it’s time to go. This doesn’t feel like a healthy “relationship” any more. Paying me 20% and keeping 80% already felt a little insulting, but I think we deserve to be treated better.

So where am I going?

This has been the hardest part of all about leaving Getty earlier, there didn’t really seem like there was any place good to go — before today.

Today I’m pleased to announce that I’m going to start selling my stock photos on Stocksy.

Stocksy is a revolutionary new photo agency started by Bruce Livingstone, the founder of iStockphoto. A lot of my friends are there selling photos now too. I’m pleased to be joining some of the most talented photographers I know in a new sort of photographer-owned coop.

While Stocksy isn’t exactly “occupy” stock photography, rather than me getting 20% and Carlyle getting 80%, I’ll be paid a much fairer 50% payout. The exciting part about Stocksy though isn’t just the higher payout, it’s that the members of Stocksy actually OWN the agency. That’s right, after paying out costs, Stocksy will distribute profits to it’s members — so members will get dividends and actually hold real equity in the business.

Now THAT is an idea that I can get behind, and one that’s been long overdue. Fairly compensating photographers while running an agency with some of the most talented photographers in the world today? Sign me up!

Today Stocksy is launching to the rest of the world. You can read more about that here.

If you are a photographer, consider signing up. One bit of warning here though, Stocksy is being *very* selective about the photographers that they are adding. I have felt a little bad because some of my good friends and talented photographers haven’t been asked to join.

Especially early on, Stocksy is trying to build a super premium library of images and sometimes this means making hard choices about who you will launch with. They are also trying to keep Stocksy small where the editors and members can know each other on a personal level. I’ve already made lots of new friends at Stocksy and I’ve appreciated the valuable advice that the editors there share with me about why an image may or may not be right. At Stocksy editors and management do Google+ hangouts with photographers. At Getty all they seem to do is fight.

If you are an image buyer, consider looking at images on Stocksy the next time you need to buy. Not only will you find some of the best, fresh, and most authentic images in the marketplace today, you can feel good about buying them, knowing that they are treating the photographers fairly.

As fellow creative professionals, you are one of us — if given a choice, where would you rather your money go — to actual photographers who create the images, or to Carlyle? Even if you don’t care, still give Stocksy a look, because the imagery there really is miles ahead of what you see in the run of the mill stock photography library out there today.

Let Stocksy make you and your clients look the best they possibly can. You are the ones we need to embrace this idea most of all.

I’ll blog more about Stocksy as time goes on. For stock photography it will be the primary place where I market my own images (like the other photographer members my images for sale on Stocksy will be exclusively offered there) and I’m looking forward to a long and successful relationship.

Here’s Stocksy’s announcement on today’s launch.

Getty Images Before and After

Update: well that was fast. I’ve been banned from Getty’s Forum. I’m fine with that as I’m not a member, but I’m told that my post criticizing them has also been deleted. I hope those that are still in the forum can keep up the good fight, demanding more for photographers. I’m disappointed (although not surprised) that after being told that respectful criticism would be allowed that Getty deleted my respectful criticism there.

Update #2: More from Stephen Shankland over at CNET. PetaPixel republished my article as a guest post here. My good friend Trey Ratcliff is also joining Stocksy.

Update #3: Fast Company’s article on Stocksy here.

Update #4: a good overview about the buzz around Stocksy.

On Facebook, The Square Format Photo is Now the King

On Facebook the Square Photo is Now the King

I’ve been using the new Facebook News Feed for a little while now. One of the things I noticed about it today (and maybe new even since the News Feed launch) is that square photos are now king on Facebook.

What do I mean by this? Square photos are the largest sized photos in the new Facebook News Feed. This is similar to how Flickr shows photos in our Flickrstreams.

Google+ on the other hand tries to squeeze a square photo into a horizontal photo envelope, which makes the square photo on Google+ have little side bars on it and looks awkward, smaller and ugly.

I, for one, welcome the new square format as the king of Facebook. The square crop is my favorite. What’s your favorite crop?

You can find me on Facebook here. 🙂

Unboxing the New Facebook News Feed

The New Facebook Newsfeed

I got the new Facebook news feed last night. The screenshot above is what it looks like. It’s super awesome. A very small minority of people will hate it — because a very small minority of people will hate EVERYTHING. I’m not kidding. The way some people love to bitch blows my mind sometimes. Haters gonna hate.

Most of you will love it though. I think it’s the most significant improvement made to Facebook since Facebook started. If you’re a photographer, you especially will love it. Photos are bigger. Bigger photos have more impact. Bigger photos look better.

When you’re eligible for it you’ll notice a little “coming soon, less clutter, more stories” box on your news feed. There is a green button to press to give it a try. If you press that green button you get the loading message. I think there was one other notice window that popped up telling me that I couldn’t go back if I went forward with it, but I can’t remember 100% on this. After this loading box the new news feed pops up.

The Invite to Try the New Facebook Newsfeed
Woah! What’s this?

Loading the New Facebook Newsfeed
Almost there!

I’ve only played with the new news feed for a few hours, but here are just a few early observations.

1. Content in the new news feed feels ALOT like Google+. I’m not saying Facebook copied Google+ here, and imitation is, of course, the sincerest form of flattery and all that, but check out the two content envelopes side by side in the photo below. They are pretty darn close.

The New Facebook Newsfeed Feels ALOT Like Google+
Separated at Birth. Facebook new news feed on the left, Google+ on the right. Or wait, is it the other way around?

Personally speaking I have no problem with this by the way. I love competition on the web. With competition users win. Everybody should rip everybody off and make everything look as awesome as it possibly can.

2. Pictures are bigger and stand out more, but unfortunately so do all of those crappy memes and worse, sponsored posts (ugh! advertising — the new advertisement for McDonald’s new fish McNuggets feels even more intrusive). Please Facebook, let us pay you for a Pro account and let us opt out of all the horrible ads.

Photos Look Bigger and Better, but Unfortunately so do the Ads
That’s an awfully big advertisement for those new Fish McNuggets that McDonalds is selling.

The meme’s are really my own fault though. When I started Facebook years ago, I simply accepted every single friend request, whether I knew somebody or not. Hey, I’m a friendly guy. I now realize that was a mistake. I think as I unfriend the most egregious of the meme sharers this should improve a bit for me.

Sometimes though there is just that one person that for whatever reason you CAN’T unfriend. You know who I’m talking about. They’d take it really hard. Yet it’s that one person who keeps sharing the crappiest meme things on Facebook 50 times a day. If you’re that guy, knock it off. Sometimes I wish there was an easy way to permanently hide someone’s content without actually unfriending them.

Attack of the Facebook Killer Meme's, Now Bigger Than Ever in Your Timeline
Attack of the killer Facebook meme’s, now even bigger than ever!

Hey it’s a dog, hey it’s stripping. AWESOME!!!! I think I’ll reshare this on Facebook!

3. The hide button is broken. One of the things that I like about Facebook is their move fast and break things moto. Sometimes though this means that everything doesn’t work so well. I haven’t been able to reposition photos on my timeline for weeks now. My wife can’t upload photos directly to Facebook at all. She has to upload to an album and share from the album.

What I’ve found on the new news feed is that when I hide content, it doesn’t stay hidden. It stays hidden for that session, but if I refresh the page it comes back. I don’t know if this is just a bug for me or for everyone, but if I actually HATE something enough to hide it, I really, really don’t like it — and after I went through the pain of a two click effort, I’d really like it to stay permanently hidden from my news feed.

4. I still haven’t figured out exactly how Facebook is repositioning photos that are less ideal for their new envelope. It seems like some portrait aspect and square aspect photos are being stuffed into a landscape frame. It also seems like some are not though — it’s weird why some are and some aren’t. I wonder if there is some sort of algorithm at play here as well, because when photos are repositioned, a lot of the time it’s a pretty smart natural reposition. Like Facebook is focusing on the eyes in photos of people.

The apple screensheet below is from my friend Kelli Seeger Kim. It’s actually a portrait oriented photograph of two apples in a basket. If you click through the image you’ll see it correctly, but in the news feed the crop is less than ideal. So sometimes this feels a little awkward.

Sometimes Facebook Does Not Get the Repositioning for Portrait or Square Oriented Photos Just Right

Overall the new design is clean and light and lovely. It feels very smooth and really nice. Photos really pop now that they are bigger. I’d give this redesign two thumbs up!

Congrats to the Facebook team on the great work! You can find me on Facebook here. Come find me and let’s be friendly.

How I Will Publish One Million Photographs Before I Die

Waiting for the Mother Ship -- Death Valley, CA

My friend Chris Guillebeau sent me an email this morning about my uploads to Flickr. One of the things I love about Chris is that like me he is a big dreamer/achiever. For those of you who don’t know him, you should get to know him. He’s a huge motivation and someone who can help you achieve great things as well. Chris wrote up a really nice interview on my photography a few years back.

One of the things that Chris wanted to do was to visit every country in the world by April 7, 2013. For this goal he is using the United Nations list of 193 member states. You know what? He’s visited 192/193 so far. WOW! His Brief Guide to World Domination should be required reading for every person in the world. It should be taught to students especially.

I sincerely believe human beings are capable of so much more than they think they are. Unlocking our true potential and power comes from some very basic tools and techniques that can be learned. In 2005 I read a book that dramatically changed the way I think about my own life by Brian Tracy called Focal Point. I’d encourage you to buy this book and read it. It’s probably the most important book I’ve ever read. If you’ve got kids buy it for them and give it to them as well. It teaches you how to accomplish great things.

One of the things that I’ve decided that I want to do with my own life is to publish one million photographs before I die. When I talk about publishing a million photographs, I’m not talking about simple shutter actuations — I’ve already taken over a million frames. Anyone can push a shutter a million times. You could probably train a monkey to do this. Anyone can even publish a million meaningless photo clicks to the web — many in fact already have.

My quest is not simply quantity over quality. What I’m focused on is publishing one million *quality* photographs that I believe in and care about as personal art — photos that I can be proud of. Each photo I choose to publish is carefully selected amongst many different frames from a shoot. Each photo is individually worked with, processed, edited with software, keyworded, and frequently hand titled and geotagged (although not always, for those last two points). Occasionally I will create more than one version of a single frame, but each photo is unique and different.

Although I publish my photos to many different sites on the web, Flickr is where I’m presently maintaining my larger body of work. What a deal Flickr is — unlimited high res photos for $24.95/year. Nobody comes close to touching this. In addition to this great value, Flickr comes with great presentation tools, an awesome new iPhone app and a pretty terrific social network too.

At present I’ve published 79,783 photographs to Flickr. In addition to these published photos, I’ve got an archive of about 22,000 fully completed and finished photos in a folder ready to go to Flickr. Each day I publish about 30 more of these to the site, pretty much at random — or about 11,000/year.

Which brings me back to Chris’ email earlier this morning. Chris is working on a new book right now and for the book had asked me some questions last month about my photography. He was following up today to confirm that last year I published about 11,000 new photos to Flickr — which I’m going to confirm with him shortly after finishing this post — but in considering this, I realize that the 11,000 number for 2012 is problematic. It’s problematic because if you assume that I continue on at this pace, I will need to live 84 more years to realize my goal of 1,000,000 photos. At age 45 today, it is highly unlikely that I will live to be 129, and so at my present pace, this sets my goal up for failure if people take my publishing rate today at face value.

My goal is much more complex than simply 11,000 photos per year for the rest of my life though. I’ve thought about my lifetime goal for many, many hours and my plan to achieve it is more complicated than a simple number for 2012 might suggest.

I’ve actually worked out my lifetime achievement goal in rough form with a spreadsheet as I’ve developed my thinking. At present what I plan on doing is increasing my publishing rate of photos by 2% per year during the next 10 years. The reason why I’m publishing less photos today is primarily because I’m so focused on actually shooting the photos today. I want to spend the time in my life when I’m most physically fit shooting the most. I also think that time/age frequently add interestingness to many photos. So I’d rather capture photos here and now today than in the future.

If I increase my publishing 2% each year for the next 10 years (something I’m very confident I’d be able to do even with my current unpublished archive alone) I should have about 200,000 photos published 10 years from now.

10 years from now my last of four children, Kate, will (hopefully) be leaving us for college. With all four of my kids out of the house, I will likely spend less time on my children than I do today. So 10 years from now I will increase my publishing rate even more, about 5% per year — more time for shooting but more importantly, more time for processing. In 10 years I’ll have approximately 370,000 photos published.

20 years from now, not only will my kids (again, hopefully) be done with college, but I’ll also be able to retire from my day job at around age 65. This will then free me up 100% to focus my time and energy on photography. I plan to increase my publishing rate by 10% per year then.

After age 65 the proportional rate of time spent shooting vs. processing will likely flip flop from what I’m doing today as well. Instead of spending 80% of my time shooting and 20% of my time processing, like I do now, I’ll likely spend 20% of my time shooting and 80% of my time processing. When you’re an old man (not that 65 is old, but I’ll get older likely after that) it’s a lot easier to sit in front of a computer and process than it is to run around the country staying up 20 hours at a stretch and shooting.

If I follow this strategy, and the part between age 65 and 80 is super important, I will publish 1 million photos when I am 80. Government life expectancy tables today give me until age 83 to live, but I wanted a few years as a buffer in case I kicked the bucket early.

My biggest challenge in all of this is maintaining my unpublished archive. I want this archive to grow larger and larger and larger, even as my published work grows as well. By growing my unpublished archive larger, I ensure that greater and greater diversity will be represented in my daily publishing. This is a secondary goal of mine, to have as much diversity with what I publish as possible. 20 years from now I like the idea of a photo from 2010 being published alongside a photo from 2015 and one from 2020. I like the idea of my photos been diversified not just by time, but by location (I’ll shoot more and more locations over my lifetime), subject matter (I’ll shoot more and more different things), style (my style will evolve and change), etc.

As I pursue this lifetime goal I’m also cognizant of a powerful tailwind at my back — technology. Technology will make my goal easier and easier to achieve. Already in 2013 I’m blown away at how much faster I can process my work than two years ago. Going from hard drives to flash storage, going from USB to Thunderbolt, faster macs, better cameras, all contribute to ensuring that I will be able to keep pace in the future even as I grow my publishing rate. For the first time, this year, I’ve felt like the only thing holding me back with my processing is actually me. For the first time with the hardware and software advances, I feel like I’m working and editing my work in real time. The future is indeed bright for the future tools that will not only continue to make our images look better, but which will also help us do more faster.

One final note — this goal is intensely personal for me and me alone. I created it, I live it, I fuel it. Over the years I’ve had many who have been critical of my goal. Many don’t understand that quantity can also be quality. Many have expressed an opinion that taking so many photos somehow diminishes my work. Many people have a desire to produce less, not more. All of this is fine. Everyone can do whatever they want. This is just what *I’m* doing. I’m not saying that this is the right path for anyone other than me and me alone. I’m not making a larger statement about photography in general, or saying that people that don’t keep my path/pace are in any way less significant as artists or photographers.

While I’ve personally admired many of the most prolific artist/photographers in the world (Warhol, Eggleston, Winogrand, Friedlander, etc.), I also admire many photographers and artists who make great art in smaller but more intense doses too. Whatever YOU do is fine. Be true to yourself and follow the artist that is inside of you.

Apple: The Perfect Retail Experience

Happy Birthday to My Totally Awesome Daughter Holly!

Disclaimer: Obviously people will have different experiences at different Apple stores at different times. This is just a single experience, in a single store, at a single point in time.

Today is my daughter Holly’s birthday. She’s been asking for an iPad for her birthday for months. I’ve been telling her that an iPad is too expensive, but I broke down yesterday after work and stopped by the Union Square Apple Store in San Francisco to buy her one. She was thrilled and ecstatic to receive it — can you tell by her photo above 🙂

I’ve purchased many things at many different Apple Stores over the years, but yesterday’s experience was so fluid and flawless that I thought I’d write a short post about it.

5pm (approximately) I walk into the store. I don’t get more than two feet into the store before making eye contact with an Apple employee strategically positioned by the door. “Welcome to Apple,” he says. “Can I help you something?”

“I’d like to buy an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, great,” he says. “Would you like an iPad or an iPad Mini?”

“I’d like an iPad,” I reply.

“Ok, do you just want the basic 16GB one?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, hold on, I’ll be right back.”

Less than two minutes later he returns with a new iPad in a shrink wrapped box.

“Would you like to put this on a credit card?”

“Yes,” handing him my American Express.

“Can I see your ID?”

I hand him my drivers license, he confirms it’s me, hands it back, says thanks and runs my card through a hand held device.

While the device is running the card he asks me, “are you buying your iPad for business or pleasure?”

I tell him that it’s for my daughter’s birthday. “Great,” he says.

A few seconds later he hands me his electronic device and asks me to sign it with my finger. I sign it with my finger.

“Would you like a printed copy of your receipt, or is just an email fine,” he asks. (God I HATE printed receipts, email receipts are sooooo awesome!).

I tell him that an email is perfect. “Ok,” he confirms, “to tom(at)thomashawk.com.”

“That would be great,” I answer back.

“Alright we’re all set then,” he says, “do you need a bag?”

“No,” I reply, “thanks for the help,” and put the iPad into my own bag and walk out the store — and just like that, four minutes later, I’m done.

This morning I received a follow up survey in my email about my experience at the Apple store. How could I not give them the highest possible ranking in every category?

Being able to walk into a store and purchase something right there at the entrance in less than five minutes is the absolute height of customer service. It’s delighting a customer who will certainly remember that experience the next time it comes to making a purchase and who will be back. No wonder so many people are buying Apple products.