Sean Locke Interview

Some of these microstock artists you may have had the luck to meet in person, but for most of us they are just icons we see posting in the forums or a strange online handle.  If you spend any time in the world of microstock you’ll soon learn that these are the artists that drive the world of microstock.  For the first in what I hope will be and long series of interviews let’s talk with the man, myth, and legend the one and only Superman of microstock Sean (sjlocke) Locke.

Sean Locke

You’re known as one of the most successful microstockers and your forum responds sometime strikes terror in the heart of new members. How would you describe yourself, who is the real Sean Locke.

I’m just your typical almost 40 guy. I’m a fun person in real life (ask anyone from a ‘lypse), but I don’t like to waste time on the internet. Got to get down to the facts when posting and get back to working. I think the silent majority likes to cut out the sweet stuff and get honest responses (backed up by the sitemails I get).

You don’t seem like the typical microstocker do you have a background in image making?

I have a college degree in TV/Film Production from Syracuse University, and out of school I worked at the Walt Disney World Resort, eventually ending up spending 9 years as a Computer Graphics Technical Director for Walt Disney Feature Animation. That included CG modeling, animation and some compositing on films like Brother Bear and Lilo & Stich.

 Do you think your time spent at Walt Disney influenced the way you go about creating stock image?

 I think the time working in such a unique arena allowed me to discover that I really enjoy the creativity that goes into and the entertainment that comes out of, content creation. As for specifically influencing, I can see I try to keep basic animation principals in mind when doing my CG stock work.

How did you first become involved with shooting stock images?

After discovering iStockphoto in 2004 during a search for images for a personal project, I attempted to sell some of my 3d renders as stock. While on the site, I saw the portfolio of Lise Gagne, and decided that going back to my high school hobby of photography might give me better (and quicker to produce) returns than my 3d work.

Did you understand from the beginning that microstock could be a viable business model, or was that something you found out after being involved with it for a while?

I’d say that I found that licensing stock (micro and otherwise) for me, is a viable business model. That’s not something I expected initially.

After watching you grow as a stock shooter over the last four years I still find it hard to describe your work. When most people ask me I tell them you’re a stock shooter’s version of Norman Rockwell. How would you describe your style?

Bright colors, emotions to the camera, easy to see concepts. I think you can look at my content and say “The point of this image is to depict ______”. I’m trying to license imagery to a wide audience here. The message has got to come across to everyone.

Any influences or anyone you look up to when it comes to stock photography?

Not really. I try not to surf portfolios too much. Of course Lise (lisegagne) and Amanda (hidesy), just by virtue of their success, not necessarily their content. I’ve always admired the composite work of Andrzej (abu) – it’s really magical stuff. There are other iStockers I peek in on at times. Outside iStock, not so much.













Some of your early work seems typical for someone new to stock photography, but then we come to Istock photo: 383272. It looks like you understood what direction your stock images needed to take. Was this image the turning point or was it some other image?

That’s just me and my son playing outside. I had set up the camera and had my wife push the button to get the timing right. I’d say my turning point was working with my first model, which I still work with today, 5 years later. She’s great! Member Suzanne (zerocattle) will take credit for that, telling me in 2004 to go out and get releases!iStock_000001853485XSmall












Yes, female number one I know her well.  Every day that I walk between my home and studio I see her on a poster.  This leads me to a question I always wanted to ask you.  Copying successful images (jumping Gold Fish) some would say is a problem, but I think copying the style of successful images makers is a bigger problem.  If I look at someone like Yuri Arcurs his style seems to be very easy to copy, and you can find a number of portfolios that are identical in style. If I look at your portfolio I can find a number of people shooting similar subjects and themes, but no one seems to be able to copy your style, why is your style so hard to replicate? 

 Well, I never really thought about dissecting my “style”, but I think a part of it is what is in your content, as well as how you shoot it. Something that could never be outsourced to a company in China for factory stock work, imo, is the people in your content and the settings and props you use. I try to aim directly at the US market, from the people, to the places, to the things, and I think buyers come to me because of that (not that I don’t see a lot of overseas use as well!). Another reason is that I don’t set out to train people to duplicate the way I shoot. I think it’s good to keep some things a bit more under cover.

I would swear you’re online 24-7, posting in forum, blogging, but you still find time to shoot upload and I hope have a family life. What is your working day like, how much time do you spend per day on stock photography?

I have an office in my home and a studio space down the street. I try to shoot 1-2 times a week, in the studio, or out, for stock. Otherwise, I spend a lot of time on my laptop in my office, processing, keywording, planning, etc. When I wait for Photoshop to save, I surf the forums. So, I normally work 8-4 on my business, and then whenever else I get the chance, like after the kids are asleep, or before they wake up. I fill in the time with 3d renders and sometimes some AfterEffects content.

Professionalization of microstock is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the last two years. What are your feelings on this subject and where do you think it will leave the hobby shooters?

Well, I think there were “professional” microstockers back in 2004. We’ve just had the time now for others to grow to the point where we can call them “pros” – full time or majority income. I’m not particularly upbeat about  these people that grow a staff to support their micro work, because I don’t think it’s sustainable. I think hobbyists will always be able to think outside the box and experiment a little more. Vetta is a good outlet for that.

List the five things that you think the sites could do to improve business.

– Make it easier for the buyer to upgrade an image size or license
– Tighten the licensing to allow another pricing level for larger business uses
– Keep the interface simple and working so buyers have a good, consistent experience
– Incorporate a buying interface into other applications, aside from the main site
– Raise royalties (well, that would improve my business).

 Incorporating a buying interface into other applications, now that sounds interesting.  Would that be something like allowing users of say a blogging site to pay for and download images without having to setup an account directly with a place like istock?

Yes, it’s something that’s been mentioned in online forums as a way to increase business. I know iStockphoto used to have a deal with an outside payment company where you didn’t need an iStock account to download and pay, but that was too much trouble, trying to follow the licenses. So, you would need an account, but it would be much easier to setup and drop images into reports and such.

I would like to thank Sean for taking the time to answers the questions.

To see more of  Sean Locke work check out his Istock portfolio.

8 Responses to “Sean Locke Interview”
  1. James Benet says:

    Wow very interesting interview! I always though Sean’s work was outstanding especially the lighting, prop setup and models, now I find out his cool Disney History and now it all connects.

    He might be harsh in the forums but I find him the voice of reason and a good antagonist to all the people who simply go with the flow and not question the decisions that get made on the site. I always enjoy a good thought out sjlocke post, it makes for good thinking, the site is lucky to have his voice added to discussions even when many think it’s beyond mercurial.

    Thanks for the interview!

  2. mari says:

    Great interview. I like his suggestion to make it easier for a buyer to upgrade their image size. Doing it via the interface would be ideal.

  3. Sean Locke says:

    Thanks for the interview time! 🙂 Glad it came out ok…

  4. John says:

    Thanks for this, Sean has always motivated me to work smarter and think outside the box.

Check out what others are saying...
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