Travis Nichols on April 17th, 2014
The group of coworkers huddled around a laptop. The laughing, salad-eating woman. The suited man yelling into a megaphone. The eager post-grad with an outstretched, fill-in-the-blank business card.
These are exactly the kinds of stock photos that Death to the Stock Photo pushes back against. Instead, Allison Lehman and David Sherry release sets of themed photos without the flat, white backgrounds and plastic expressions that the go-to stock photo companies pump out like combo meals.
Most photographers work on an hourly rate for events and contract gigs, and there’s not much of a way to break through that paywall without hiking rates or trying to sell prints. But… prints?
(altered photo from the ‘Lake” series)
We talked to David of DttSP about their new model of photography and an upcoming 5-city trip that will fulfill a longtime dream.
How did the idea for Death to the Stock Photo come about? What were you and Allie doing before this?
Allie and I were both freelancing full time, and it started out as us just sending our designer/blogger/creative friends photos to use in their projects. I was just out of school (last May) and Allie was running The Wonder Jam, which she still does today.
We had a common pain where you work really hard creating something beautiful for a client, only for them to send you a pixelated, generic photo to use alongside your design or website. It just felt inauthentic. We’d actually preferred they hire someone for it but sometimes it’s too costly for newer businesses. Being that we both were photographers on the side, we decided to just open up our library to our friends to use however they wanted. After getting a great response on that we started shooting once a month for the email package we’d send out. We shoot in themes like coffee shop, city, park—anything we thought would really serve and inspire our communities’ projects.
(altered photo from the ‘Brick & Mortar Pack”)
One interesting piece of my story is that right out of school I had this dream that I could get a brand to sponsor me to go on a road trip. I pitched multiple companies on a campaign to drive around the country creating photo and video content for them in exchange for funding the adventure. In the end I got all NOs, so it’s kind of cool/ironic that I’m doing a similar trip a year later with an audience of my own. Something I believe in now is that you can’t wait for anyone to “pick” you. You’ve got to pick yourself.
What’s your favorite cringe-worthy trope of traditional stock photography?
For me it’s all about the lighting and the staging, I guess. Lighting is such an important piece of photography, and many of the common cringe-worthy stock photos just have this weird superficial flat lighting that I honestly don’t even know how they create. I think they might have a filter that they put on it. Someone should create a “stock lighting filter” for Instagram.
Your upcoming project is an invitation. “Let’s adventure, together.” Tell me about the 5-city trip you’re taking.
With the support of our community we’re heading across the U.S. to take the most authentic imagery we can and tell the stories behind them. We’ll be hitting Big Sur, Seattle, Nashville, Chicago, and NYC. While some of it will be structured, we’re trying to make the content as authentic as possible, so we’re hoping for as much serendipity and real adventure as we can. Our brand is really about death to “stock” with stock meaning the average and generic. So we really want people to push beyond the “stock” lifestyle to pursue their dreams and push to create their own path versus one that’s standardized.
What place are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about checking out Big Sur. I’ve heard so many good things about it and I think I’m camping around there for part of it. Plus there’s a marathon going on there which will be awesome to see. Marathon people are usually awesome, so I’m hoping to meet some fellow travelers and hear their stories. Other than that, I’m in love with the energy NYC has so that will be special for me as well.
Do you have any specific notions of the sorts of things you’re looking to shoot?
We have some general outlines of what we want to shoot, but it’s funny because there’s this tough paradox. The more you plan, the more that planning comes through in the photo, which isn’t always bad, but the type of photography that I love is real and in the moment. There’s a delicate balance here, so we plan on having a loose structure on themes (similar to our monthly emails) alongside giving ourselves time to really get to know the city through our lens.
What will buyers receive?
Our buyers (any amount they can afford) will receive a pack of 20+ photos every few days from each location. With that pack comes stories from the road; photos they can use in their own projects as they’d like, and hopefully a view of the city that they could apply to their own travels. We’d love for people to visit a city after and feel like they know some of the cool locations and cafes from this, kind of like a city guide.
What sorts of cool uses have you seen for your stock photos so far?
The best thing we see on a monthly basis is this dynamic between ourselves and our community. We create a pack, send it out, and then see all of these people just make something beautiful with it, be it a blog post, design, or website. Something in particular that was pretty cool was that we put out a local band-themed photo pack, and this guy emailed us after saying, “I finally mocked up this music app I’ve been thinking about because of this photo pack.” I loved hearing that.
There are still a few days to sign up to receive photos from the Death to the Stock Photo cross-country trip. Go to https://gumroad.com/l/roadtrip. The cutoff is April 20th! And to receive monthly stock photos, go to join.deathtothestockphoto.com.
If you’re a photographer, designer, writer, musician, developer, filmmaker, or any other type of creator, what can you do that would break the established mold of your craft? We’d love to hear about what you’re working on.