One of the pioneers in the
business of digital technology is J.W. Burkey. He operates an eight-person
studio out of Dallas, Texas, and now works with his wife, Cathy, who
has worked as an art buyer and a stock photo editor. J.W. is an award-winning
photographer and also teaches his unique style of combining photography
with computer graphics.
From their point of view, shooting film, scanning and manipulating photography
gives you two clients for your work. One is the client who buys illustrations.
The second is the client you may already have but needs both digital
services and the photography.
For the first, you are now an illustrator and selling the creation of
a unique, new expression--your personal style. Because style is not
subject specific, you need to market your work very widely. Like any
illustrator, advertising in a source book is probably the best marketing
tool because it can expose a broad market of tens of thousands of clients
to your style.
Where do you get fresh ideas to develop your personal style of digital
photo illustrations? J.W. says, "We live in such a visually saturated
society that the images are everywhere. We get ideas from music videos,
movies, magazines, everywhere. Visual ideas are everywhere. We have
50 or so ideas in our sketchbooks for each one we've been able
to finish. Of course, I'm not talking about copying other shots.
That's pointless. But you might see something as simple as a new
way someone has put colors together in a store display or in a play
and that will launch you straight into a shot you'd like to do.
Cathy's experience as a stock editor also gives her great insight
into what will sell. From a business standpoint, that's critical."
If digital technology gives you the opportunity to make illustrations
out of photos, who are the best clients for this work? J.W. offers this,
"Since designers are `early adopters' they first accepted
my work. Now it's considered safe for ad agencies, so I'm
doing a lot of work for them now, too. But the biggest change for us
is stock. Since Cathy is a former core editor (senior editor) at the
Image Bank, we've got an inside line on what sells as stock. I
love editorial but I seldom get to do it due to the low rates. I have
found that there are a few magazines that actually pay a decent amount,
say $1500, for an original photo illustration. That's practical
provided that it's something we can sell as stock later. Oddly,
these are usually less known magazines. The rich magazines are the ones
who want to take advantage of photographers and illustrators."
The second kind of client hires you to create an image that still resembles
a photograph, but you create the final photo using digital technology.
This work is usually subject specific (e.g., the photography of food
or products) so you can market these images very precisely. The best
marketing tools are direct mail campaigns and sales calls. Since your
studio will do the image enhancement and assembly, this creates more
services to sell to existing and new clients.
You can also expand your digital billings and business by working on
supplied photos. J.W. offers this caution, "Working on someone
else's images is no problem, the problem is working on pre-existing
images. It's important to have some input before the image is
shot. Basically, the best images seem to always start out with a strong
idea. We build and improve as we go, but we start with an idea of where
we want to go. Also, it's important to shoot with the computer
in mind as well as with the end image in mind. The advantage and disadvantage
of having a partner is kind of two sides of the same coin. Creatively
it's easier to just please yourself. But having two people helps
keep you from going off on a tangent that only you will understand.
If your partner stares at you and says, `I don't get it,'
then chances are the viewing public won't get it either. The critical
thing is to play fair. We try to build on each other's ideas.
If we disagree, we try to do it respectfully."
What if you are not ready to take on the business of digital technology?
Finding a creative partner may be the answer. J.W. says, "The
things we do together are almost all her photography with my digital
imaging. She occasionally paints on the computer with my help and I
occasionally shoot. Cathy's a better people shooter than I am.
For that matter, she's the best I've ever met. After a while
she started asking me what I could do in the Mac to help some of her
shots out. So it goes both ways."
Cathy explains how she got started, "Well, the truth of it is,
he tricked me! I had this block against the computer and so one evening
he innocently said, `Hey, I have these photos you might have fun
handcoloring. Why don't you play around with them and see what
you come up with.' So I did--for four hours and I really had fun!
The next day J.W. told me that the client really liked what I'd
done to those photos. Imagine my surprise. I'd been duped by my
own husband into working on the computer! Since then, I've become
more interested in the computer as a tool to enhance, manipulate, and
create with. It's exciting to know that I live with one of the
most respected digital artists in the nation. Who wouldn't want
to work with someone like that? We just have a good time and create