Interview with Trevor Lush
John interviews leading stock photographers regarding current trends and the future of stock photos.
Interview with Trevor Lush
Trevor, you've shot bloody-faced polar bears, pristine operating rooms,
women in Vegas, winter camping and Olympic athletes in your studio. If we
were going to hang a label on you as a photographer, what would it be?
Years ago I was showing my work to some photographer reps in NYC and one of them said, "I'm not sure what to do with you - you're a Generalist! You shoot everything. Just pick one thing, and then I'll know what I could do with you." Being called a Generalist was like some sort of foul language. Maybe that's why I gravitated towards stock photography. I really enjoy being able to shoot lots of different styles of photography, it keeps things interesting, and I love being able to draw on all those different experiences. I think shooting one particular style or subject matter would bore the hell out of me.
Q. How did you get into photography?
I freelanced for newspapers while still in high school. Then worked with a studio in my home town, before heading off to photography school. After graduation, I assisted for several years with a variety of studios, and freelanced for a number of photographers as well. I really tried to expose myself to as many different types of photography as possible. I truly feel that assisting was the best education I could have given myself, and I eventually started taking on more of a shooting responsibility with those studios.
My first experience with stock photography was working with a studio on a contract they had to produce custom stock for Microsoft. I spent a summer shooting table top stuff in their studio. Interesting to start learning about the pressures cost-per-image and return-per-image can put on you.
Next, I was hired by Hemera to be the Lead Photographer for their in-house photographic production team. I worked with that company for about two years, producing about 15,000 images for their Ablestock brand.
After that I realized how much I loved shooting stock. I set out again on my own. The first agencies I signed with were Iconica , Uppercut, and Jupiterimages.
Q. You shoot a really wide range of subject matter, both in the studio and on location. What do you enjoy shooting the most?
Every shoot brings its own set of challenges and unique energy. I think that's what I love about a career in photography - the variety! I love being in the middle of a huge production with lots of locations, models, and crew! At the same time, it can be equally rewarding to be shooting food with my wife on our kitchen table. Plus there's always something around the corner that will test me in new ways, like photographing a surgery for a healthcare client or winter camping for a book publisher.
Q. For you, what is the most challenging aspect of being a professional photographer?
The biggest challenge for me has always been trying to find the time to work on all of the different projects I want to work on - and of course, balancing it with a busy family life at home.
Q. I know you shoot stock for Blend Images. What percentage of your business is stock and what agencies do you work with?
The majority of my business is stock. I think Blend Images is doing some great things right now, and they have a fantastic relationship with their contributing photographers. I've really enjoyed working with Veer as well. Also, I've kept myself very busy with Jupiterimages in the past. Great relationship with them over the last 4 years - producing about 6000 selected images a year. Plus, I have images with a handful of other agencies as well.
Q. How do you determine which agency to send work to?
I don't spend a lot of time shooting unsolicited images and trying to find a home for them after the fact. I work closely with my editors at each agency, so that I focus my efforts on producing images that the agencies have a need for.
Q. Do you do any direct sales?
I've never done any direct sales. I think that will change in the near future.
Q. Does Micro stock have any allure for you?
I've been approached by a few different agencies, but I've never shot Micro. Maybe that will change if the right scenario presents itself. At this point I'm focusing my efforts on Rights Managed and direct sales.
Q. Do you have any plans to move into video?
Yes. At the moment, I'm looking for the right project to collaborate on, with a friend of mine who's an incredible cameraman.
Q. What are some of the challenges facing stock photographers these days?
I think the biggest challenge is deciding where to put your images. Will there be a resurgence in Rights Managed? Has Royality Free become too bloated? Is there still time to make money in Micro? Will I recover my investment before the industry shifts again?
Q. Do you see your involvement in stock photography changing?
I see me moving away from the high-volume work I've been doing in the past, towards a much more targeted approach. Less images with more added value.
Q. What currently is your favorite image?
I'm so bad for this... I think I may have ADD or something because I'm always flip flopping on new favorites, then I see older images and I get excited by them all over again. I was in Mexico a few years ago with Willie McElligott, a friend who was teaching a photo workshop. While driving to a location for the morning shoot we came across a farmer herding sheep along the side of the road. I made an image of a lamb being carried by one of the horses. It became one of my favorite images from the trip. No production, just a simple photograph.
Q. Getting back to the assignment world, how do you market yourself?
Most of my assignment work is spin off from subjects and locations I've sourced for stock photography productions. Other than that, it's a mix of good ol' cold calls and introductions from editorial shoots. I wish I had a better answer. I think I just like getting in the same room with people and selling myself. I enjoy building relationships.
Q. What role does the internet play in your marketing? Do you have any plans to expand that role?
I'm still very new to the Social Media scene, but I love it and I see amazing potential! I have a presence with the usual suspects like a website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, etc. At the moment, most of my existing clients are not very involved so I'm looking for the best Social Media to reach them. An editorial client of mine has been discussing building something more interactive that I would have a large presence on. I'm pretty excited by the initial conversations, but we are still in the early stages.
Q. Any photographers that have influenced your career?
The earliest inspiration I can recall is in 1988 when I was still in High School. Sports Illustrated ran a story of Muhammad Ali and his entourage shot by Gregory Heisler. Beautiful black and white portraits. I had never seen anything like that. Years later I heard a talk he gave to RIT called The Appropriate Response. He spoke of the virtues of being a well-rounded photographer, and being able to draw from a diverse pool of photographic styles and techniques. It stuck with me for a long time.
More recently, I've been so damn lucky to be able to call so many incredible photographers not only influences, but friends as well. The photographers who make up Blend Images are probably the most open, encouraging, and inspiring people I've been fortunate enough to sit in the same room with.
Q. Can you tell us about a memorable shoot that you have had?
Hard to narrow it down... but I will say that I've been fortunate to have been a part of some Arctic Expeditions with a group called Students On Ice. An amazing organization that brings students from all over the world to the Polar regions to provide them with an intimate educational experience at the ends of the earth. Documenting the expeditions has been a unique challenge for me, as I've never really considered myself a documentary photographer. I'm so used to being in control of the situation when I'm on set, and making great images as they unfold all around you is an excellent way to reexamine your skills as a photographer. Besides the experience of working in such close proximity to Polar Bears, Walrus, Bird Colonies, Whales, Glaciers, and Icebergs - it's the people you get to share this experience with. The team of scientists, historians, artists, authors, educators, polar experts, and the Inuit community, are incredibly open and passionate about sharing their knowledge and experiences with everyone around them. These are excellent virtues that I think we should all adopt into our daily lives.
Q. Do you do personal work?
No personal projects at the moment - maybe this is the year!
Q. Do you do your own digital work?
When the stock production has been really high-volume I would send the retouching to a great freelancer in Montreal I've worked with for years.
Q. Do you have a staff?
No staff - just me. Some great freelancers help out from time to time when the workload gets too heavy. But for the most part, I just don't sleep a heck of a lot anymore! Especially with a 3 year old and a 1 year old at home as well!!
Q. Optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Even though it may seem absurd at times, I can't help being really excited by all of the changes that are happening in the industry. New technology in imaging equipment... new developments in web 2.0... the shift in the industry of being more open and community focused... We're on the verge of some truly important times in image making and storytelling.
Trevor's website: http://www.trevorlush.com