Contributor Spotlight: Michiko Tierney
Michiko and Justin Tierney are a husband and wife photography duo who go by Tierney on Adobe Stock. What started out as a hobby for Michiko has blossomed into a fruitful profession. By working together, they are able to produce a diverse portfolio that encompasses lifestyle and still life photography — as well as time lapses and other videos. We spoke with Michiko about some of lessons she’s learnt and challenges she’s overcome to become a best-selling stock photographer.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
MT: We are a husband and wife photography team based in the U.S. I was born in Japan and my husband Justin was born in the USA. We are both self-taught. Justin focuses on time-lapse, cityscape, and aerial photography, while I dedicate my time to still life, photo illustrations, and business themed images. For studio and lifestyle shoots with models we collaborate.
How and why did you get started in stock photography?
MT: I made my first upload to Fotolia (now Adobe Stock) in late 2010. I was taking photos daily just for the enjoyment of it and Justin told me about the existence of stock photography. I was intrigued that I might be able to earn income from my photographs even though I wasn’t a “professional” photographer at that time. I bought my first DSLR and studied photography and Adobe Photoshop day and night.
After two years, my portfolio and downloads grew to a level where it made sense to create stock images full time. Justin was in school completing his PhD and helping me in his spare time. He graduated this spring and is now doing time-lapse and stock video full time along with helping me with shoots.
What has been the key to staying motivated and consistent?
MT: One of the beauties of this business model is that I’m free to follow my interests. I brainstorm new themes that I’m eager to shoot, and then do some research to gauge whether it might have commercial potential. After I find a theme to be a successful theme, I continue to reinforce it periodically with more images. Then I move on to a new theme and repeat the process. After seven years, I have a collection of themes that I regularly contribute to while hunting for fresh ones. It’s like juggling and gradually increasing the number of balls. You have to keep the current ones in motion while preparing and handling the new ones.
How do you decide what to shoot and when?
MT: Many of my best-selling images are holiday themed. One thing I do is use my Google calendar to schedule shoots for each holiday six months in advance. This gives me time to plan, shoot, develop, retouch, tag, and upload before the holiday comes around. I have a similar schedule setup for purchasing holiday props just after the holiday when items go on sale in preparation for the next year.
Do you have any particularly memorable shoots?
MT: When I began stock photography, I was only taking still life. I wanted to hire models, but I felt I needed more practice first. I took some photos of Justin’s grandmother and she just adored having her picture taken. She was photogenic and surprisingly skillful as a model. We shot together consistently for several years. I learned my craft and she enjoyed posing. It was wonderful. She passed away four years ago. I am endlessly indebted to her for encouraging me during the most challenging time as a stock photographer. In recent years I have hired many talented young models, but interestingly, the photos of Justin’s grandma are still some of my best sellers. She is the top model for me.
What’s the most rewarding thing about being a stock photographer?
MT: In a word — freedom. I can live and travel anywhere at any time. I can work when I want and how I want. Being able to choose what I work on keeps me energized. And I love that the harder I work, the more I earn. For those reasons, it’s a particularly convenient vocation as a new mother. I have a one-year-old baby boy now. I can schedule shoots and post-processing around his sleeping schedule and he even models for me.
What about the most challenging?
MT: Teasing out the intersection between my interests and skills and the interests of the market is the most important challenge. Sometimes I feel confident that I’ve found such a theme and — after investing in it — it flops. This happens, but it’s just part of the job.
What’s the secret to a best-selling stock photo? For example, this photo of a runner has been downloaded several thousand times. Why do you think it’s been so successful?
MT: I have found that photos of people that don’t have their faces in the frame have a longer sales life than ones with their face in the frame. Stock photography buyers are globally distributed, and not having a specific face in a frame — just a hand, or arm, or other part of the body — allows for broader applications. It’s about finding the sweet spot between the generic and the specific.
Do you have any tips for people who are starting out in stock?
MT: In any art-related realm there is often talk of “talent” or being gifted or having some inborn skill or genius. I find that a lot of the thinking around the topic of talent to be misguided. We all go through periods of self-doubt. Asking yourself if you have “talent” or not is fruitless and often discouraging. I find it helpful to disregard the topic completely and replace it with a question of desire. Instead of asking myself “Am I a talented photographer?” I can instead ask, “Do I have a desire to make better photos?” If the answer is yes, then that’s all the matters because then you will spend the time and make the effort to constantly improve and learn new aspects of the craft. After all, that’s what talent actually is. Not a natural skill, but a natural love for learning a skill.