Lise Gagné Shoots Stock: Unique Designs & Top Technique
Lise’s story is one of passion, persistence, ingenuity, and timing. As a graphic designer she often used photography in her work. One day, when searching for an image she needed for a project, she came across istockphoto.com and was immediately attracted to the idea of creating images for the then emerging market of RF (Royalty Free) images.
Lise had always been inspired by photography and this discovery sparked her imagination. After purchasing her first SLR she started creating themed imagery, often using herself as a model, right in her apartment. She not only started making money but also quickly built her reputation on unique themed images with a touch of whimsy and impeccable design sense. Her boss, aware of her evening photo shoots, told her one day, “It’s obvious this is your passion. Go do it.” She was then fired. She’s made a living as a stock photographer ever since, though she fully admits that her timing was perfect, as online microstock agencies were just in their infancy when she started. She shoots constantly and now has the time and finances to travel to unique locations for special shoots, various istockphoto events, and even conducts workshops for other stock photographers.
I caught up with Lise at her home studio in Quebec City to discuss her workflow when she is out in the field. Her English is actually quite good (she natively speaks French) but she prefers to have her husband Louis LeBlanc around for translation. Louis is also an exclusive contributor with istockphoto and he shoots video clips, usually right alongside Lise. He’s also one of her best models and appears in many of her best-selling images. Yes, she still gets in front of the camera. Since they usually travel together, over time they’ve developed a very simple setup.
Lise uses a Nikon D3X (and at this writing she was waiting for a D800 to arrive). She takes two basic lenses with her, a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8. The D3X provides dual CF card slots so she places 32GB SanDisk cards in each one and shoots each card simultaneously. Depending on the extent of the shoot, she may never exchange these cards out.
“I have become a selective shooter and I don’t fill up my cards the way I used to,” Lise says. “I make sure the lighting and the setting is just right and then I shoot exactly what I envisioned for each pose. This cuts down on my proofing and processing after I get home.”
Since Lise is not on any deadline for a magazine or news agency, she does all her processing at her home on her Mac G5 with Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5. She decided she could travel even lighter if she didn’t bring a computer since she was only using it to proof the day’s images. Unless she is doing a workshop where she needs to make a presentation, she leaves the laptop at home. First thing that comes to mind when traveling without a computer is—how do you back up your cards? Lise doesn’t back them up anymore, ever since moving to 32GB cards. She just makes sure she has enough for the shoot and never lets them out of her sight.
“When I don’t have a computer, I’m not compelled to look over my images in the evening or after a shoot,” Lise explains. “This allows me to just focus on the creative aspect of the shoot and not pull my thoughts in different directions.
“While other photographers are spending their evening fretting over their shots,” Lise adds, “I’d rather have a nice dinner with Louis where we can casually discuss our shooting strategy for the next day.”
While focus is key to quality images, it’s critical in stock. Instead of shooting away and hoping one or two shots work, Lise is meticulous that her main subject is tack-sharp at 100 percent, so she checks the LCD viewfinder to confirm focus on every shot. She will delete test shoots from the card but leaves all others, even if the focus isn’t perfect. She waits until she loads the card onto her studio computer. While she could reduce the size of the image in the event the subject is slightly soft, the size of an RF image often determines the price, so she likes to make sure she has every size possible available for download sale.
She carries an iPhone, and sometimes an iPad; however, the only iPhone app that is in her regular workflow is called Sun Seeker. It tracks the sun, based on date, location, and time. She doesn’t professionally use any of the images she captures on her phone, though technically 5MP is large enough to submit for stock.
It might seem Lise has it made with a nice residual income from almost 8000 images on file, but she says it’s necessary to continually push herself creatively (such as a recent “business” shoot with a chimpanzee) as her work is often emulated. Stock photography was never an easy field, as your technicals need to be near perfection. However, it’s due to creative and prolific artists such as Lise Gagné that unique and out-of-the-box imagery has never been more of a prerequisite to success.