Sunday, 5 August 2012

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey and the adjoining Studley Royal are properties owned by the National Trust. We have been members of the trust for longer than I care to remember, and are generally supportive of their work, but their policy on commercial stock Photography is regrettable. 

First let's praise the good. They have recently lifted their ban on photography within the buildings, except in those cases where a private owner is involved or other factors make it undesirable. You can't use flash, but I can live with that, well done the Trust.

However their policy on stock photographers is in need of review. I, and many other amateur photographers, help to pay for their photo gear by selling their better images using stock agencies. 

Once upon a time you could make a decent living, or boost your retirement income, out of stock photography, but a number of factors have combined so that this is no longer the case. 

Firstly digital photography has made the technical side of the game much easier, anyone who is not a complete idiot can take a technically perfect photo using today's automated cameras. The result has been a flooding of the market with stock photos. 

Then we have the move from printed media to the web, and the easy pilfering of copyright images. There can't be a decent photographer who has not suffered in this way, and the cost of redress generally far exceeds the likely settlement. British courts will not impose punitive damages, so photographers may well  end up out of pocket if they pursue media thieves.

Then we have the recession, nuff said.

While, a few years ago,  images would typically sell for a few hundred dollars, they now go for tens or less. I have sold photos to a National newspaper and my agency has received a payment of $6, from which they take their reasonable cut.

In contrast, the cost of remaining competitive by keeping up to date with the latest digital equipment is a major burden. In the days of film progress in camera technology was relatively slow and a good camera could last through a person's career. Now you have to buy a new camera body every 3 or 4 years if you want to match the resolution and image quality of the latest equipment. My kit is all second hand, but it cost me £1700 to buy a camera and lens last year. I have registered with the taxman as a sole trader, but I need not have bothered, as I will never show an operating profit!

Now some of the most photogenic locations within the country are owned by the National Trust, and, in the past would have been bankers for stock photographers as calendar and travel shot locations. Not any more however, as the trust will not allow stock photographers to sell images taken on their properties. They do offer a deal, but it is open only to full time professionals and costs £70 per year for the privilege.

In stock photography you don't work for a client, you take photos and offer them for sale on the media marketplace. The chances of any one photo selling are slim. I have approaching 3000 images on sale and I sell around 2 per month. Some people do a lot better, some a lot worse. Paying money to take a photo that may or may not sell is clearly a non starter!

The Trust holds properties and land for the benefit of the Nation. That includes Joe Public, it is not private ownership, and Joe Public includes photographers.

Think again National Trust, there is little money to be made from stock and your restriction is an unreasonable one. You would earn more money from the entry fees and membership payments of budding stock photographers if you allowed them to try their hand. I would willingly pay 10 % of any stock sales that I made of NT properties, but, given the current rate of return, it would not be worth collecting!

Photographs sold by the stock industry would provide free advertising for the Trust. How much does the Trust spend on this I wonder?

The NT can keep a tight grip on UK stock agencies, but what of the world situation? How many foreign stock photographers are able to sell their NT images worldwide without hindrance while we UK taxpayers cannot?

Enough of this dark mumbling, here are some photos of the beautiful Fountains Abbey, and, by the way, they are not for sale!

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