Artist Inteview: Sean PriorPosted: September 15, 2011
Every month we feature one of our illustrators or photographers. This month we talk to Sean Prior of Ireland. He took some time from his hectic schedule to chat with us about photography, the microstock industry and creative inspiration.
How did you get started in photography?
SP: I was initially a documentary filmmaker and had produced 7 films which were entirely self-funded and produced on my own time. (My day job at the time was in business development). This meant I owned all the copyright to the footage I had shot. I then took the clips to a few well-known agencies; they liked them and it went from there. I loved the creative aspect of stock footage, so I set about turning a hobby into a business. Now 4 years on we have 40,000 images and 20,000 HD videos! The still images side came as an afterthought: “Hey, I’m here shooting a stock video shot, why not take a photo as well?”
My background is very far removed from this business. I have a BA and MSC in Economics! Bizarre, right? Maybe I made the wrong subject choices in school but you know in a roundabout way it has got me to work in an area that I absolutely love. The most important point though is that I have a team of people working with me who are far more talented than I can ever hope to be.
Who or what inspires your work?
SP: I get inspiration from the team I work with and also from people who don’t produce volumes but really focus on their own style—artists who aren’t as mainstream and keep a low profile. There are some great photographers out there, but it’s very important to be aware that, in many cases, while the photos might have one name on the copyright notice there’s a very expensive production team working with them (art director, make-up artist, stylist, location scouts, etc.). I think it’s important for individuals to realise this and not feel that they’re not hitting the standards due to lack of talent. Someone may have the talent but not have the team around them or the money to spend.
What are your favourite images from your collection?
SP: That’s a hard one. The favourite ones generally aren’t the good sellers. We were working on a shoot last year and we had a joke about who could produce the best image and win the “player of the tournament” award. Our senior photographer (Paul) produced a technically brilliant image of a boy kicking a ball in the park with his Dad. The emotions and the technical aspects were simply perfect… It has yet to sell!!
The same was true for my image on the shoot. I spent about 40 minutes on my knees in a very painful pose trying to get a shot of a mother and daughter blowing bubbles. Personally I loved the photo but unfortunately no buyer does! Not one sale to date. It’s criminal that an image of someone “snapped” against a white isolated background with a cheesy smile and a ‘thumbs-up’ to the camera is outselling these images! I suppose that’s the difference between stock photos as a hobby and a business—you have to accept the good with the bad. I have sold plenty of classic stock images.They’re the bread and butter of the business. You have to accept that what you think is great and what sells can be two totally different things.
What’s your favourite subject matter?
SP: Underwater sharks and fish – I only ever get the chance to do a few days here and there. I did my advanced PADI a while back and I would like to spend a lot of time underwater with a camera. Some day, when I retire! Right now I have to make sure I can pay my staff, so the dream will wait.
If you had to pick just one camera to work with from now on, what would it be?
SP: Easy – Phantom Video camera. I could spend all day capturing water drops splashing into water at 1,000 FPS or travelling around trying to find a hummingbird to shoot. Again, it’s a dream for another day!
If you won the lottery, what’s the one place or person you would run away to photograph?
SP: I would spend a lot of time in Thailand. I really love the country and the people. It’s such a great place. Maybe also camp up in the Scottish highlands with no mobile or laptop looking for a fox or badger to photograph.
Any tips for someone who’s just starting out in the stock industry?
SP: Find a niche that you love and doesn’t cost much and spend your time photographing and enjoying it. Or have lots of someone else’s money to spend on big productions. Warning: the second option is not good for your health, is very stressful and you really need to make sure you don’t mess it up.