Gay and lesbian issues have been in the mainstream news spotlight for the past several years. States are either making it legal, illegal, or legal and then illegal again for same-sex couples to marry, and every politician seems to have some kind of “stand” on the issue.
As a result, a demand has grown for stock photography that accurately portrays the community, in a way that the community itself will accept.
I decided to interview three photographers who specialize in this niche. Annie Libby, president of outLOUDstock, Joe Tresh, a freelance photographer in Washington DC, and Julie Smith, founder of Homostock.
With the arrival of ‘microstock’ and the declining value of a stock photograph, it’s become increasingly difficult for a photographer to make money in the stock photography business. Photographers who are finding success in this climate are the ones who specialize in a niche.
Specialization allows the photographer to concentrate on one aspect, and cover it deeply – much deeper than a large stock agency can afford to do. It also allows the photographer the ability to target their marketing efforts toward the people who would be most willing to use their images, and it’s a great way to make the most of social media.
As this interview shows, gay/lesbian stock photography is just like any other in-demand stock photo niche. The secret is to find a niche that you know, shoot with passion, and don’t give up.
1) Stock photography is a tough business these days, and very few photographers are making their living solely from stock photography. What else is in your mix, in addition to stock?
My photography is mainly editorial LGBT news and wedding photography, which I archive on PhotoShelter for distribution to media outlets and clients. Being in the nation’s capital, I have a lot of opportunities to capture historical images. Sometimes the subjects themselves need photos to distribute, so they buy the rights for distribution. I’ve also sold to publishers of political books and textbooks. Washington DC has also recently legalized gay marriage, and I am using my documentary style to cover weddings.
I am a web designer by day so I shoot for many of my clients. Mostly food and environmental portraits.
outLOUDstock is a collection of 100% lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) stock imagery suitable for commercial and editorial use. Unlike other stock photography collections that may have gay images, we only accept non‐erotic and mainstream LGBT images from our contributors.
outLOUDstock is unique as our images challenge typical LGBT stereotypes, homophobia and transphobia in mainstream media and our mission is to provide positive images that celebrate the strengths and diversity of LGBT community. Many of our clients appreciate the fact that this collection of stock imagery is safe to browse through in a corporate office setting.
2) Gay/Lesbian lifestyle stock is a unique niche that must be growing in demand. Has interest in this type of stock seen an increase recently, and if so, what do you think are the reasons for that?
outLOUDstock was created out of the need for quality non‐sexual images of the LGBT community. Many gay and lesbian businesses, as well as larger corporations with diversity programs were looking for stock imagery that accurately represented a typical gay couple or family, rather than stereotypical images commonly found in other stock archives.
Same sex relationships have always been part of society, but It’s only been sixteen years since the first mainstream marketing even touched on gay relationships. Business owners and marketers are realizing that like anyone else LGBT people respond to marketing images that reflect who they are. In today’s market any smart mainstream company advertises in gay media.
I have seen growth. I think a lot has to do with social media which has increased the awareness of LGBT businesses, brands and blogs.
3) In the past few years, with many states making it either legal or illegal for same-sex couples to marry, this niche has been in the national news spotlight. Has there been much demand for more news-related imagery?
Editorial imagery of same‐sex civil unions and marriages has been on the increase in the United States within the past 2‐3 years and we expect this trend to continue as more states continue to debate this issue. Another demand on the rise is LGBT imagery for commercial use. As discrimination of the gay and lesbian community continues to decline on a global platform, more businesses are comfortable marketing and advertising to LGBT consumers, which means they also are looking for images that accurately portray the LGBT consumer.
I think traditional news wire services are covering gay stories more, and a lot of media, gay or otherwise, rely on those services. I try to photograph the key people in a story and cover themes that the wire services may not look for, such as gay parents or early-morning excitement at the courthouse. Not knowing the deeper story, the mainstream wires sometimes miss brewing controversies. I look for them.
4) What are some of your best-selling images, and why? Is there a demand for anything specific, or any constant requests?
Individual pictures of people at events sell well for me. I try to capture quality lighting, and I think I have a keen eye for getting a good look out of people, so they like what I’ve taken. News images sell at the time they are new. If a big controversial event is happening, a lot of gay media will want an image.
Here is a popular image I’ve recently taken at the CAGLCC 20th Annual Awards Dinner Gala.
And here is some controversy – Transgender activists picketing the National HRC dinner.
Most of outLOUDstock’s best‐selling images are of gay and lesbian couples and families. Again, since most LGBT stock images are sexual in nature and portray the stereotypical misconception of a gay “lifestyle,” (is there a heterosexual lifestyle?) the need for imagery that accurately portrays the LGBT community will continue.
5) Who are your customers? Magazines? Advertising agencies? Newspapers?
Besides wedding, my customers are mainly newspapers, magazines, and book publishers, and direct sales to people who are in the images.
The majority of outLOUDstock’s clients are non‐profit organizations, corporations with diversity programs, and businesses that cater primarily to the LGBT market.
Magazines and blogs as of late.
6) How are you marketing your images? What has been your experience with social media, and how has it helped your ability to reach target customers interested in this niche? What is your most effective form of marketing?
Email campaign and Twitter. Twitter has really been the most effective. It has allowed me to find more target companies and the ability to talk directly with the owners/designers/buyers. I feel with twitter some of the barriers have been eliminated.
outLOUDstock markets our images traditionally using direct mail and e‐ promos to a carefully selected list of advertising agencies, graphic designers, non‐profit organizations, and other LGBT image buyers. With a continuing degree of success we also use social media (Twitter, Facebook, and a blog) to communicate with image contributors regarding image requests, to keep in touch with current clients, and to target new image buyers. Since adding social media to the marketing mix, we are pleased with the results. Both types of marketing are used together to complement each other.
I haven’t yet used social media to target editorial customers. I don’t use Facebook solely as a marketing tool. Being a social person myself, my social media following enjoys my nightlife photography, event photography, and fun news photography like Gay Pride or the High Heel Race each October. I am looking to expand my use of social media even more very soon.
My most effective form of marketing is direct contact with editors who like my work, whether that be in person or via email.
7) I’ve been telling people for years – in order to achieve success in stock photography, you must become a specialist, and focus on a niche. Do you agree? What advice would you give a photographer looking to get into stock photography today?
I absolutely agree. Because of new technology and social media there are all kinds of niches opening up everyday in stock, find those holes and start filling them. I started because I saw a need for images that really represented our everyday lives, not the over-sexualized images I was seeing used over and over again because nothing better was available. I’m really passionate about creating great images of gays and lesbians and I feel a certain responsibility to the community.
Specialization is the only way to succeed in stock photography. That said, photographers new to stock MUST completely understand this rapidly changing business and how the actions of larger stock companies and distributors are altering the stock industry. This industry is not the same as it once was and new ways of doing business are required in order to be successful. The methods of licensing photography, such as Rights‐Managed (RM), Royalty‐Free (RF), Microstock, and Subscriptions, as well as pricing, seem to be in a continuous state of change. What won’t change is the need for fresh quality imagery such as still photography, motion, and illustration, either in an emerging field or one that is currently under‐represented (or misunderstood).
Quality!! Focus. Composition. Tell the whole story. Don’t let “good enough” be good enough or crap becomes king. Use the best equipment you can and learn how to use it to it’s greatest potential. Take risks. Learn exposure and color temperature. Turn off the image review and capture the images in your mind. Figure out which of your images make you happy… then make them better the next time around. In editorial images, know who the subjects are and who you should cover, and always break away from the pack.
And stop giving your images away! Remind people that good work can’t be done by just anybody. It isn’t just a click of a button on auto. It’s good equipment handled by experienced photographers who have special talents.
About Annie Libby
Annie Libby is President of outLOUDstock, a niche stock photography company dedicated to celebrating positive portrayals of gays and lesbians in mainstream media. Founded in 2007, outLOUDstock is a premium collection of mainstream Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Rights-Managed (RM) and Royalty-Free (RF) stock images available for advertising, commercial and editorial use.
The photographic archive contains non-erotic images that challenge typical LGBT stereotypes, homophobia and transphobia in mainstream media by providing images that portray the diversity and every day life of this community. Libby created the first stock photography catalog dedicated exclusively to images that improve public perception by depicting the great diversity and common humanity of the LGBT community — images that, in her words, “capture the extraordinary in everyday life.”
Libby is an award-winning photographer with over 15 years of experience working as a commercial and corporate product/catalog photographer as well as a lifestyle stock and equine sports photographer.
About Julie Smith
Julie Smith is a web designer and photographer based in Manhattan. While working for a small GLBT blog in 2005 Julie noticed the lack of good gay and lesbian stock photos and decided to start the Homostock collection. Homostock creates high quality stock images of gay and lesbians with a focus on couples.
About Joe Tresh
Joe Tresh has been photographing LGBT events for over 20 years, including historical LGBT news events such as President Obama signing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the recent National Equality March, the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993, Stonewall 25, Gay Games IV, the Millennium March on Washington, and the induction of Frank Kameny’s papers into the Library of Congress. He is the first contributing photographer to be syndicated with Q Syndicate and a photographer for the Washington Blade.
His photographs have been published by Der Spiegel, Advocate, Washington Post, Out Magazine, Bay Windows, Windy City Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia Gay News, Bay Area Reporter, Pridesource, Gay & Lesbian Times, American Bear Magazine, Fox News, and others.