We spoke to awesome Fotolia contributor Heike, a specialist in food photography, to get her opinions on women in the stock industry and food photography in relation to cultural relevance, as well as – of course! – her top tips for succeeding in stock. Here’s what she told us.
Fotolia: Can you introduce yourself, your profession, and how you began selling images on Fotolia?
Heike: I’m a digital media designer, and working in advertising I’ve always dealt with pictures a lot. However, those were the days when there were no microstock agencies and I had to browse huge catalogs provided by macrostock agencies. I used to flip through those catalogs for hours, especially fascinated by the nature shots.
By accident I came across an early website offering royalty free content, in a community oriented, non-profit kind of way. Joining this site was a bit of a turning point in my life, because this was when I got addicted to taking pictures and seeing the world through different eyes. It wasn’t really about making money, rather, I wanted to show my own perspective of the world… by means of my tiny ultra-zoom compact camera.
Several years later I joined Fotolia and took up food photography for the stock market, which I still do today. When I want a change, I enjoy taking natural portrait photos, preferably outdoors.
Fo: Can you describe how you shoot food? Do you have a team working with you, preparing the food or do you work independently?
He: I wish I had a team, or at least two or three additional arms… But no, I work on my own, at home, in a room I turned into a studio. I spend a lot of time collecting ideas and preparing shots: I list the ingredients I need, do the shopping, prepare the food, and arrange it.
I want all my pictures to look natural and want everything I photograph to be edible – that’s why I never “pimp” my food artificially.
Time is a real challenge. A lot of dishes stop looking good after just a couple of minutes; sauces ooze away and herbal decorations shrivel quickly. Sometimes, when I am completely focused on the overall picture, I miss a detail like that and notice it later when I retouch the picture. You really need to work very carefully when you do food photography.
Fo: You’re based in Germany – do you find that as a result your images are sold mainly in Europe or worldwide? Do you try to photograph food that will be recognized internationally?
He: Well, Germany is fairly international from a culinary point of view. If I lived in Spain I would probably specialize in Mediterranean cuisine. Actually, I would like that!
I mainly try to keep my photos generic to give them a bigger chance of being sold. I also like to focus on individual ingredients and work intuitively from there. I tend to find inspiration everywhere, be it in magazines, at the farmer’s market or when I walk my dog. I always carry a little notebook with me so I can write down or sketch an idea immediately.
Fo: What tips and recommendations do you have for other women working in the stock photography industry or looking to start working in it?
He: Probably the most important thing is to find oneself and develop a style of one’s own. Competition is huge and you need to set yourself apart somehow. For example, I wouldn’t recommend looking at bestsellers only – plenty of others do that already.
Try to develop a sense of trends and walk through the world with your eyes open. Be passionate; try to accept setbacks and criticism. And most importantly: work hard! If you plan on making a fast buck in microstock you are bound to be disappointed.
Fo: Do you think being a female photographer differentiates you from your male counterparts in terms of how you photograph?
I’m almost afraid to say something wrong here, but sometimes I get the feeling that women approach certain subjects in a more sensitive manner, especially when it comes to photographing people. On the other hand, when I see a photo or a portfolio and learn whether the photographer is male or female afterwards, I’m often surprised.
Fo: Do you find that working in the stock industry gives you more flexibility? Is this something that was important to you when you started selling your images to stock websites?
He: Definitely, it’s a privilege! It’s a great feeling to be free in one’s own decisions and to be able to do what one loves to do… and even make money with it.
Fo: What was the learning curve like to reach the professional level you’re currently at? How long did it take you?
He: I never had professional training as a photographer, I’m completely self-taught – and in a way this seems appropriate since photography is a never-ending journey of learning and development.
However, my experience in graphic design works to my advantage. Working in advertising has taught me to “scan” my surroundings and to absorb everything that inspires me. I like to try new things, so I never stop learning.
Fo: How do you feel the stock industry differentiates from other photographic market places?
He: The stock industry is all about usability, especially in regard to advertising and editorial usage. A picture does not have to “beautiful” in a classical sense; it has to convey the right message. That’s why it’s important to keep up with the latest trends in graphic and web design: what’s hot today can quickly become yesterday’s news – and vice versa!
Although there is not a single absolute visual language in the stock industry, you should not strive for something too arty or experimental; if you do, it can be harder to sell your pictures. But this is just my own personal experience!
The important thing is to enjoy trying new things and never lose the joy of photographing!
Fo: Thank you so much for your time and that great advice, Heike!
To see (or buy) more of Heike’s delicious work check out her Fotolia portfolio.