Interview with Inti St. Clair
John interviews leading photographers about the future of stock photography and other important issues.
Interview with Inti St. Clair
John: From my perspective, you are young, hip and successful. Can you tell us a bit about your journey to where you are now?
Inti: LOL. I’m flattered you think of me in that way…not sure I can agree, but, thanks!
My journey here was a long, winding one: After living in Austria for a year in High School, I got the travel bug, and knew whatever I did, I wanted to travel the world doing it.
Of course photography fits well into that, but to be frank, I was daunted by it. Not sure why exactly… likely the fear of failure. So at that point, as much as I loved photography, I didn’t give it much more than a passing thought. I recognized I have a natural ability toward learning languages, so I majored in Foreign Languages in college, hoping it would segue into a career that would help me feed the travel addiction.
Junior year, while living in Chile, I took my first photography class. I loved it, but I was pretty terrible at it-I think some of that had to do with the language barriers, but nonetheless the truth remains…the prof. passed me out of pity. Also during that year, I decided I couldn’t think of a career I actually wanted that would involve my language skills, so I decided to use my obsession with food to become a chef.
I dove into it full force-worked my way up to sous-chef in 6 months, and chef within a year, all while going to school full time to finish my degree. I loved cooking professionally, but not as much as I love traveling, and four years into it, after working 196 hours in two weeks, I realized I was never going to have the life I wanted as a chef.
I quit, and, deciding photography really was the best fit, and I’d hate myself if I didn’t really give it a fair try, I enrolled in Rocky Mountain School of Photography’s Summer Intensive program. Two and a half months of living, breathing photography, and I was HOOKED.
After that (August 2000), I moved to Seattle, started assisting for anyone who would take me. As fate would have it, I was on a job with an architectural photographer, Robert Pisano, at a restaurant where Jonathan & Amy Ross were dining. After they left, and I checked out their work, I demanded he introduce me at the soonest possible moment.
I met them officially at an ASMP event a few weeks later, and knew instantly I wanted to work for them. They were just getting into stock full time transitioning from the commercial world, and hadn’t really thought they were ready to hire anyone, so I started out Part Time.
I was their …everything. LOL Studio manager, producer, assistant …you name it. Through that job, I fell in love with the stock photo industry. It truly was the experience/education of a lifetime. Jonathan is an amazing stock photographer-one of the very best. I’m still in awe of his ability to light on the fly like he does, and he can produce more selling images in less time than anyone else I know! I worked for Andersen Ross for 4 years before I went out on my own.
I always knew I would go out on my own---mostly because as much as I love producing, I love shooting more, not to mention the fact that only by being self-employed can I travel as much as I want to.
John: You shoot Lifestyle, Food, Travel, Architecture and more. The conventional wisdom is that success is easier obtained through specialization. What is your view on that?
Inti: Honestly, I hadn’t really thought about it. At Andersen Ross we shot Lifestyle, I know that it sells the best, and more than anything, I love shooting people, so that’s what I shoot primarily.
The Travel imagery I shoot because I love to travel and to capture the places I visit, but I definitely do it with the knowledge that I want to put it into the commercial stock world.
The Food photography thing started a year and a half ago when I decided to write a cookbook to give away to friends and family at my wedding. Funny, but I never thought I would enjoy it as much as I do (I have never really liked shooting in the studio, and find product photography really boring.)
It’s so different from lifestyle-for me it’s a form of…relaxation. Obviously, I love to cook, so I usually just cook, drink some wine, take some photos, and then eat! It’s an added bonus that I have an outlet to sell those images. I guess in the end, I just specialize in shooting what I am passionate about!
John: Is there one thing you like shooting the most?
Inti: Definitely people- preferably on location. I just got back from shooting on Ohau, Hawaii. 20 shoots, 47 models, 12 days. It was amazing! Next time though I think I’ll not produce quite so much so I can actually enjoy paradise a bit more. ;)
John: How much of work is assignment, and how much is stock?
Inti: Last year it was about 2/3 stock, 1/3 assignment. I got some really great assignment jobs last year, especially considering I don’t do any advertising for assignment work.
John: Do you have a preference for either assignment or stock?
Inti: I think of myself as a stock photographer, and overall I can say I prefer it. I have definitely really enjoyed some of the assignment jobs I’ve done, but I love the freedom of producing my own shoots.
John: How is the stock world treating you these days?
Inti: Well, royalties are definitely down. I know I’m not the only one experiencing that. It’s a bummer, but ultimately, I still feel like I make a great living doing what I truly love to do, and for that I am really grateful.
John: Who handles your stock, and do you do any direct sales?
Inti: My main agencies are Getty and Blend Images. I’m also with Jupiter, Cultura, Danita Delimont, and Uppercut. I don’t do any direct sales. The whole direct sales thing intrigues me, but I can’t imagine trying to take that on without having some sort of staff. At this point, I’m a one-woman show, and work way too much as it is!
John: How do you market yourself?
Inti: I don’t. Embarrassing, but true. It’s on my list of things to do…and has been for a long time. I just get too wrapped up in producing, shooting, and post-production. In all honesty, I’ve been really fortunate to have some great assignment jobs fall in my lap, and I haven’t made marketing a priority. I need/intend to though! LOL
John: What role does the internet and/or your web site play in your business? Do you have any changes in your internet presence planned?
Inti: Good questions! I have a web site-the basic function of which is just to prove legitimacy. By that I mean I street cast all the time, so it serves to show models I am what I say I am, and get them excited to work for me.
I intend, this year, to re-vamp, and really start marketing it/myself, so hopefully it will help me get some more assignment work too. Additionally, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Linked-in, etc… At this point, all of those things have proven to be a lot of fun, and great for networking with other photographers/like minded people, but I haven’t gotten any work as a result (yet ;)).
I toss around the idea of a blog-I regularly read those of some of the photographers I really admire-You, Chase Jarvis, Shalom Ormsby, Vincent Laforet, Strobist… I thoroughly enjoy reading them, and can see that it, as well as other online networking forums, can serve as an amazing marketing tool. I think Chase is an especially exceptional example of someone who uses the web and all it has to offer for that.
For me, I do sometimes feel I’m missing out by not utilizing what’s out there in this realm better, but it comes down to time, and I don’t have enough of it!
John: Has the economic downturn impacted your business?
Inti: Absolutely. As I mentioned before, royalties are down considerably. This means having to produce a lot more to make the same amount as before.
John: If so, how are you dealing with that?
Inti: Mostly by keeping my costs as low as I can. I don’t have any staff. I rarely hire assistants. I really do every part of my business, from producing all my own shoots, to editing, to post production on images.
John: When shooting stock, from where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
Inti: Everywhere! Sometimes it’s based on a great location, or model. Sometimes I see a hole in an agency’s collection, or get the idea from a creative research brief. Sometimes I see a movie or other photographs, and want to try and capture a similar feel in regards to lighting or emotion…Inspiration is all around-you just have to pay attention to it.
John: Do you have a typical way of approaching a shoot?
Inti: Hmmm. That’s something I have been thinking about a lot lately. I feel like I usually try to get as much done in as little time as possible. Sometimes, that’s a great approach, but I think I would benefit from slowing down, focusing more, and really crafting images as I envision them.
John: Does that differ for assignment and stock?
Inti: Well, with assignment, I’m usually working on other people’s schedules, and often other people’s visions, so in that case, they’re a lot more in charge of how things flow. I just try and create the best images I can to fulfill their expectations.
John: What is the biggest challenge for you in shooting stock?
Inti: I guess I have to say it’s keeping up with the post-production. I am in awe of what can be done in Photoshop-especially when I look at the work photographers like you and Colin Anderson do.
I’m constantly seeking to improve my skills, and though I get a lot of satisfaction out of working on images, I get tired of sitting in front of the computer for days on end. I’m a very social person, and can only do it for so long before I start itching to be out there shooting and interacting with people again.
As a result, I shoot a lot, and I always seem to have a mountain of post-production work waiting for me. I do get help here and there, but I always go over every image after they’re done, and work on them some more. Maybe I am just a control freak, and need to get over it….lol
John: How about with assignments?
Inti: When I’m shooting stock, I know when I’ve gotten what I want. When shooting assignment, it’s not always clear. More often than not, it’s a communication issue. It can be a real challenge trying to capture someone else’s vision-especially whey that can’t communicate to you well what that vision is.
John: What do you consider your “big break” (or the closest thing to one)?
Inti: Without question the job with Andersen Ross. I was able to get down and dirty, and learn the industry from top to bottom from one of the best.
John: Did/do you have a mentor?
Inti: Jonathan at Andersen Ross. I haven’t worked there for 3+ years, but we still keep in touch, and I’m consistently in awe of what he does and how much he produces.
John: Which, if any, photographers have had an important influence in your career?
Inti: Beyond Jonathan, I would say I have a huge list of photographers who inspire me (it’s growing constantly), how influential they are is not really something I’ve thought about, but I’m sure they are.
I am definitely inspired by the photographers who started Blend. In the stock side of things find Colin Anderson, Stewart Cohen, and your imagery especially compelling-I admire how you’re constantly putting unique imagery into the stock market.
A few non stock photographers whose work I love (off the top of my head): Sebastiao Salgado, Peter Lindbergh, Andreas Bitesnich, Lara Jade…
John: What keeps you going?
Inti: Passion. I also enjoy the challenge of being a photographer. I’m someone who can get easily bored, but this industry is constantly changing-there’s always new stuff to learn, new gear to try, and room to improve-I don’t for see boredom ever becoming an issue.
John: Where would you like to be (in a photography sense) five years from now?
Inti: Hopefully doing more creative work in both stills and motion, for stock and assignment, loving it as much as I do now. (and still be able to pay all my bills, and travel the world doing it!)
John: Our industry is going through constant change at an astounding pace. Do you have any predictions about where things are headed?
Inti: In regards to stock, it’s becoming harder and harder to be just a stock photographer-there is so much competition, the market is flooded with imagery, and since pretty much anyone can get a microstock contract, it’s only going to get worse.
When you also take into consideration the rapid advancement of digital technology (not to mention the lower cost of said technology; 2 years ago to get a decent camera you had to drop $8K now you can get something even better for under $3K), it’s blatantly clear that the phenomenon is only going to intensify.
I think, in order to survive, the pros are going to have to diversify. By that I mean, a mix of stock and assignment, by shooting stills, and getting involved in motion. I definitely think motion imagery is going to continue to play an increasingly large role in the photo world…
John: Do you have any plans to get into motion?
Inti: Yes. In what capacity, I’m not sure. By that I mean to say I don’t know if it will be as a director, camera operator, or what. In my limited experience thus far, I have come to realize that unlike still photography, it’s not something I can do on my own.
I have a contract with Getty for motion, so I’m going to start playing with motion, and see where it takes me.
John: Any special projects you are working on or considering?
Inti: Nothing specific at the moment. Need to plow through the mountain of post production I’m buried under before I start really brainstorming about future projects. lol
John: Do you have any advice for young and aspiring photographers?
Inti: Shoot what you love. There is not a lot that’s easy about being a pro photographer, and the sad reality is that very little time is spent actually shooting, but as long as you’re loving it, it’s all worth while.
John: Can you share one of your favorite images (of your own) with us and tell us a bit about how that image came to be?
Inti: One image, huh? Ouch. LOL I picked this one because after looking at it hundreds of times, it still makes me laugh. I had pre-visualized the shot, so it only took a few minutes to get it, but I had to beg the model to do it for me…
John: Any words you would like to leave us with?
Inti: A friend of mine once told me that people are always wanting things to be easy-fewer problems/less stress. The reality is that it’s only by creating, embracing, and working through consistently bigger problems, that we accomplish great things.