Mistakes are, for most of us, something to be avoided. But perhaps they shouldn’t be.
Konrad Bak is one of Fotolia’s best-selling photographers. Speaking to him recently, he assured us that sometimes mistakes are the best way to get things right. You might think he’s crazy, but his Fotolia sales speak for themselves.
We asked him about himself and his philosophy of making the most of mistakes (but we still used the spell-check when writing this!)
Fotolia: You’re Fotolia’s best-selling photographer in Poland – what’s your secret?
Konrad Bak: I’ve been taking photos for a good ten years, but my adventures in stock photography properly began in 2009. It’s the visual aspects of reality that have always attracted me, so this is what I try to seize in my photos – to capture “the moment” and its accompanying emotions.
My first ventures into stock photography, with istockphoto, were mostly rejected for technical reasons, but I persisted, and was successful on my third attempt. I find it so rewarding and it gives me lot of joy.
I think the recipe for success is just to keep trying and discover what works for you. I don’t hide the fact that, for me, there’s a strong financial incentive for selling stock photos, but that actually makes me more open to daring ideas, and my success would not have been possible without that.
Fo: It took four years to get where you are now – are there any shortcuts to this process?
KB: If you want to succeed, you should never take shortcuts. Making mistakes is inevitable and just like in everyday life, they serve to teach and inspire you.
So, the best thing is to draw conclusions and make changes when you’re unhappy with your level of success. I would not change the approach as well. For quite a long time I switched between different ideas, and this made me realize I needed to specialize, whereas, in the beginning, I avoided the easiest – and therefore the most popular – topics.
This doesn’t mean I’ve found my niche, just that mostly I try to do things that the customer is looking for.
There are no misguided ideas, just those not positioned well.
KB: One would think that the most profitable photos demand hours of heavy preparation, analysis of the topic and demand, deliberate selection of the frame, and so forth. But the most successful pictures can be taken quite by chance, almost casually.
Fo: Have you had photos that should have sold well and for some reason did not?
KB: From the beginning you have to realize that customers can, for some reason, not like an image and therefore won’t buy it. There is no rule.
As in any art, there are different expectations and different tastes. These are not designer products exhibited on the shelves of stores, always ready to buy. In this industry, everyone can purchase what he or she wants, and each photo is an attempt to match the needs of the buyer.
Fortunately, most of my images are very well received!
Fo: Do you remember any sessions being particularly difficult?
Fortunately, when we work on stock photographs we can afford to make it a totally relaxed atmosphere – they’re my specifications so it’s easier to meet them.
Every session is different, and most problems are generally to do with the preparations. It’s much easier to take pictures of, for example, a smiling girl with coffee, than it is to organize a session which requires you to find the right location, organize a large group of people, and direct all the models (if there’s a large group of them).
In addition, moving equipment, adapting to the prevailing conditions, and many other small problems all take time to fix, and are often out of your control.
A lot of the most successful pictures are those with models or a group of models. It’s quite an investment – you need to hire them and then hope the picture will sell well enough to pay the costs. Always try to minimize the risk – I try to keep my sessions artistically advanced and to collaborate with a wide range of successful models.
Models know that sessions with me are not just generic white background stock photo-shoots – every time it should be something different, unique in its own way, often with a message or an interesting scenario. I care about the fact that most of my work tells an interesting story and conveys emotions.
This attitude is essential to stay at the top of the stock industry.
KB: Everything takes work and commitment. The question is whether it is treated as a hobby or as a job. If it’s job then you should invest more to succeed – it’s worth it!
It’s also important to maintain a good reputation, extensive industry contacts, and, above all, a good manner with people, to work with models and extract the best image. These are the ingredients for success.
Fo: Do you know who buys your pictures and why?
KB: I have tried to find out, but the world’s just too big.
Looking at the images which sold in the last six months helps to identify whether we’re going forwards or backwards in terms of quality and quantity. You also have to react to market trends, for example, the popularity of smartphones and, more recently, tablets, means clients need more photos of people using them. I also watch the fashion trends in order to stay relevant.
Fo: I have to ask – where do you find your inspiration and ideas?
KB: First of all, from my head. Of course, it’s nice to watch the great masters and snatch something for myself; but as a rule I use ideas that come from the depths of my head. I write down those ideas and try to develop themes.
Fo: Some photographers selling on microstock agencies say that new people can no longer break into the market and be successful. Is the stock market really getting harder?
KB: Hmm … yes and no. The number of emerging new contributors, the overwhelming flood of photos – most of which only distract clients from the best work – are a problem. However, I think stock photography still has plenty of space for images that involve a lot of creativity and work.
KB: That Rome was not built in a day. Everything takes time, so don’t be discouraged if sales are low at first.
Also, don’t simply copy successful images – try to find a new topic, or to shed new light on a photo theme; for example, using a different light when modeling can change the scene dramatically.
Fo: And finally, for all the beginners out there, what common mistakes are easily avoided?
KB: It’s easy to become discouraged by the number of works rejected for technical reasons. Don’t!
Don’t try to reproduce images that already exist. Why make a thousand of copies of this kind of picture when there are already so many out there? In the beginning, you won’t have the equipment or experience of the professionals, so look for your own niches and invest your time in these niche themes.
Sooner or later the time you invest in these will pay off.
Fo: Thank you so much for your time, Konrad!
Konrad has a remarkable number of great images available to view and buy – see more of this work on his Fotolia portfolio.