Business Insight - Keith Morris - Stock and Commercial Photographer

Born in Aberystwyth in 1958, Keith Morris studied Geography, Economics and Urban Planning at university before becoming a freelance photographer in the early 1980's. Apart from his time in education and a brief flirtation with life in California in the mid 80's he has spent all his life in Aberystwyth, living in the house once owned by his grandfather. He is a regular contributor to many photography agencies and libraries in the UK, Europe and the USA, specialising in Welsh and Wales-related environmental, social and political subjects. The transformation of photography by the digital revolution has made it possible for him to continue to live and work in his home town while being able to get his images bought by users all around the globe.
He is currently working on a series of portraits of women allwearing the same black and white dress, some of which were exhibited at Aberystwyth Arts Centre during The Eye documentary photography festival in 2014. The project is scheduled for completion in 2015

How long have you been shooting stock?
I started shooting for Photo Library Wales about 25 years ago and Iíve been doing stock on and off since then but really with any degree of seriousness since I joined Alamy about 8 years ago.

keith morris image 1 What type of stock images do you shoot?
Itís all secondary editorial. I donít do landscapes, I donít do travel I donít do celebrities. So, itís all basically illustrative stuff about health issues, social issues, educational issues, stuff I can either piggy-back on existing commissions from clients or I can shoot on the streets here in Aberystwyth. I donít travel. Iíve not been abroad since 1987. Iíve barely travelled outside of Wales in recent years. Iíve travelled outside of Wales about 10 times in the last decade. I mostly work in the county of Ceredigion. Then most of the time I work in Aberystwyth. I have a local palette to work with but I try to make the most of it.

Do you shoot RF and RM or just RM?
Itís all RM. I very rarely do anything RF. Largely because the nature of my content means itís impossible to do RF because itís all unreleased stuff with people. If I was doing plants, landscapes or wildlife then it would be much easier to shoot RF but as Iím doing street photography with people with brands and organisations in then RF is not an option. Do some images sell better than others? Yes some images do sell better than others, people doing stuff, a person doing a thing is always good. It should be a nice clear image showing someone doing something and if that something is around an issue or a concept or a current popular activity then all the better. You have to be really clear in the picture as to whatís going on. I see so many stock images where the message in the picture is not clear. If thereís any doubt then the picture wonít work.

Do you have a favourite stock image?
No Iíve got 30,000 stock images and I donít have a favourite really. Stock photography is not about being precious about the images. If you have that attitude then you shouldnít be doing stock. Stock is about getting the most from the opportunities you have. So I donít a have a favourite in that sense, there are images that I like, that are popular, but I donít a favourite per-se. This is a business and canít afford to be sentimental about it. Iím always looking forward to the next challenge. Tomorrow is international Handstand Day so Iíll be shooting something about that tomorrow. I havenít got time to think about my favourites really.

Are there any stock photographers whose work you admire?
No, I really donít look at other stock photographerís stuff. I do my own stuff. I look at images a lot in newspapers and magazines. I look at what images are being made. I donít look up the photographers. I donít follow individual photographers but do follow themes, directions and styles.

You use are a frequent user of social media, why is that?
When you are a working freelance self-employed you have to take every chance you can to self-promote and thatís often the difference between a successful and unsuccessful photographer. Itís not so much the ability to make the pictures, itís the ability to actually promote themselves as being able to make the pictures is I grasp every opportunity I can to makes sure people are aware of my abilities.

Do you have any advice for a new starter in the stock market?
You are probably too late would be my advice. In terms of getting a reasonable return on your effort in a reasonable amount of time itís much harder now than it was even 5 years ago. The rates per sale per image are low and the number of images are high so unless you have a very tightly edited, on message and focused set of images then anyone new entrant to the stock market is going to be frustrated. Itís still possible to make money but you need to have either a considerably large portfolio of images or a very well thought-out strategy for making hot, on-message stock images.

What do you think the future of stock looks like?
The market is getting bigger as more opportunities for picture use arrive. For instance The Mail Online are a veracious user of stock images online. When they do a web story they will be typically using 80 or 90 pictures online. So there are opportunities for newsy stock there. More and more people are blogging and tweeting and they are using images there. Itís how you monetise that usage is the problem. Certainly video stock is going to more popular. If I knew the answer I probably wouldnít be telling you anyway as itís such a competitive market you need to protect any slight advantage you have.

keith morris image 3 Do you see any common mistakes amongst new stock shooters?
They donít know what theyíre doing, they donít do any research. They bump up their favourite pictures which their mates say are lovely and they have no commercial sense whatsoever. They donít know how to tell a story in a succinct way and have no sense of editorial or narrative. They donít look at what the agencies they supply to can sell. Iíve run workshops and Iím amazed at how ignorant people are of what actually sells as a stock image. If they spend a month before submitting any images cutting out every single stock image they come across and have a 40 or 50 page portfolio of other peopleís stock images to see what kind of stock images are wanted. Research is essential. I was lucky I came from a newspaper background and I know what newspapers want to tell a story.

You also run courses for new stock photographers. Can you tell us about those?
My courses are going well. The next course is October 3rd (This interview is from 2015 so this date has now passed) in Cirencester and is a one day Alamy Stock Photography and Key-wording workshop. Attendees will come away with a whole range of new skills and awareness of stock photography as well as an Alamy goody-bag!.

What's the best bit of photography advice you were ever given?
I donít think Iíve ever been given any photography advice. Iím not a trained photographer Iím making it up as I go along.
The best bit of photography advice I could give is to bend your knees. So many people donít vary the view point from which they are taking the picture. All of their pictures are taken from 5í3Ē they should get down and change their viewpoint.
Also, never trust a photographer who hasnít got scuffed knees. All of my trousers are scuffed because Iím kneeling down all the time.

Contact details for Keith

Keith's Alamy workshops are organised by
Graham Light LBIPP, Abbey Studios Ltd., 13 Keels, Cricklade, Wiltshire, SN6 6NB
01793 752671 or 01285 653069 - 07733 305519 (mobile)

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