Photographers across the world lost countless assignments — and paychecks — because shoots everywhere were canceled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Adaptability has always been a hallmark of successful people in any field, not least of all a creative one like photography. For Laura Thompson, adaptability meant reverting back to what she knew: photojournalism.
The Brooklyn-based commercial and editorial photographer spent years working at the New York Daily News; after being let go, she connected with a friend from college who worked as an assignment editor at Shutterstock. The friend asked if Laura knew anyone who wanted to cover NY Fashion Week later that year. Laura said she could do it and has maintained a relationship with the stock photography outlet ever since.
I first got involved with Shutterstock in July 2018 after being laid off from the New York Daily News. A friend from college is an assignment editor at Shutterstock and reached out to see if I knew of anyone available for a month-long assignment over New York Fashion Week in September. I told her that I would actually have the time myself to help with coverage needs if she was interested, and we started working together very closely from there.
When COVID-19 first hit, it affected the New York metropolitan area harder than just about anywhere else in the country. During this time, Laura went back home to Roanoke, Virginia, to stay with her parents. While down south, she figured she had to stay busy somehow and decided to get shots of how her parents’ community was being affected by the virus. This is where that Shutterstock relationship really bore fruit — instead of just keeping her work to herself, Laura could send it along and, if her shot got picked up by a publication, get a nice little paycheck as a result.
For this project I self-assigned the day-to-day of what I would cover under the general assignment of “community” and “acts of kindness.” From there I shot, captioned, keyworded, and uploaded images onto their database. They then distributed the material on my behalf to media grids and hosted the pictures on their website.
It’s always interesting to see what places through an editorial agency. There’s usually a 1-3 month delay between time of submission and the sales report. I probably submitted about 300 images over three months. From the sales reports that have come back so far and the placements I’ve found on my own, editors seemed to gravitate to the businesses I photographed.
My work on Wonderful Machine and how I market myself to clients is very different, but this provides passive income and has always been a nice little check in the background of the client work I take on.
Many photographers operating in the commercial and editorial sphere started in the world of journalism, and they all carry with them valuable lessons learned from the early part of their careers. Laura is no different.
The Daily News taught me that every wire photo should aim to tell a complete story in one frame. Web and print products have a very limited amount of space. The editors at newspapers and websites look through thousands and thousands of wire images a day trying to figure out how to illustrate their stories on an extremely short deadline.
Working as an editor also taught me basics like the print product needs vertical shots and the web product needs horizontals, so now I try to shoot both. When submitting to agencies, I try to keep my edits to a tight 1-3 images per subject and 5-15 per event or assignment, with a variety of angles and orientations to satisfy any editor.
Still, there’s a reason Laura does completely different photographic work than before. The schedule that took her from the early morning to 2 p.m. burned Laura out, and it wasn’t long before she desired to try something else. Little did she know how important her acquired skillset would be down the line.
In the months leading up to my departure from NYDN, I started photographing food on bright colors and exploring still life photography. My work now is focused on product, still life, and portraiture, but when Coronavirus threw the world upside down, I reverted right back to what I knew, photojournalism.
And with that knowledge base comes the ability to pass it along to younger photographers. I asked Laura what advice she’d give to people who wanted to get their work into publications via stock agencies, and she was quick to enlighten:
If you want agency sales, you have to think in terms of what is a busy news editor is looking for and what will grab their attention. I suggest researching on different stock websites before going out on self-assignments. Check Getty, Shutterstock, AP, Reuters. What do all the news agencies already have available for license? Can you approach that subject matter differently? Where are the gaps in coverage? How can you make your photos specific to the one agency you’re working with? If they can’t get similar content anywhere else, your photos will have an advantage of getting placed.
Not only did Laura have numerous photos get picked up by outlets like The New York Post, Variety, and The Guardian, she got to spend some quality time with her family while down in Roanoke. There certainly are worse ways to wait out a pandemic.
I made a lot of content with my parents which was a new, fun way to make work. My dad would go to the gas station, and I’d tag along just to photograph low gas prices. My mom was along for the trip to my uncle’s dentist office, so she stood in as our reception-area-patient for that set. The whole family went to a drive-in movie one night; I had never been to one! It was fun to spend so much time with them and make so many new memories with my parents in a creative way.
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