Interview with Sean Locke, Professional microStock Artist

If you don’t know who Sean Locke is, you probably don’t visit many online, stock related, forums.  If you do (any of the forums really) you are sure to have bumped into him.  I feel Sean is one of the more helpful posters online, however his blunt honesty and lack of ‘secret sharing’ often make him come across as the opposite.  Either way, he is a highly successful artist, ranked #4 on iStockPhoto and #1 on MicrostockGroup user rankings 😉 and has fine tuned his business strategy quite unlike his competitors.  Happily, Sean has agreed to an interview, revealing all his trade secrets in the answers below 🙂

Sean’s Specs?

Name: Sean Locke
User Name: Sjlocke
Exclusive Status: iStock Exclusive
Portfolio Size: 10,000+ files
Stock Portfolio Link: Getty Images
Social: Facebook

The Interview

When did you get started in stock?

I started by opening an iStockphoto account as a buyer in 2004 and was contributing soon after that.

How did you get started as a microstock artist?

I had bought some background images for a home theater pre-show DVD I was creating.  When I finished, I thought that I might be able to make my money back by licensing the work that I had created in 3d for some of the other backgrounds.  The plan seemed to work.  I soon found out that creating a good variety of 3d imagery was taking too much time, so a few months later, I purchased a Digital Rebel and then some Alien Bees lighting soon after so I could work with photo content.

Farmer's Market - Sean LockeWhat gear are you currently using?

Right now, I shoot with my Canon 5dMk2 and 1dsMk3.  I use my AB lighting when I have power (ABR800, AB1200, 3 AB800, AB400) and Canon Speedlights when I don’t.  I use PocketWizard equipment to trigger it all.

Are you ever tempted to go non-exclusive?  How long have you been exclusive?

Not yet 🙂 .  I’ve been exclusive since day 1 of the exclusivity program at iStockphoto, which was January 2005, I believe.  I had to drop Shutterpoint to do it, which to be honest, wasn’t hard, as I don’t think I ever sold anything there.  Partly because I think they were more concerned with signing up paying contributors than finding paying buyers.

How do you work, as in, do you have employees, do you have a full time / part time assistant, do you outsource any part of your workflow?

I do 100% of the work needed to get my content into my portfolios.  I have found a college student that has helped me with releases and setup for a couple of shoots.

Essentially working on your own, how do you stay competitive against your competition, many of who have teams of 4-20 employees?

I try not to shoot the kind of content they do.  For example, I rarely shoot “business teams”, which is a subject they tend to revisit.  Repeatedly.

You keep your cards very close to your chest in regards to advice and trade secrets … that said, do you have any advice or secrets to share.. just a crumb?

See answer above…

Why do you keep your proverbial cards so close to your chest and how do you feel about those who don’t?

This is my business.  I tend to treat my workflow, planning, strategies, etc. as my “trade secrets”.  The whole package helps me succeed where others might not.  I don’t mind sharing tips on “how to trigger a flash a certain way” or a specific keywording question or similar.  However, providing a step by step training manual to what is, essentially, your competition, makes no sense to me.  The entire world can see everything you post on the internet.  You don’t know who is going to take what you provide and run with it.  I’m at a point where this is what I want to do for a while, and I don’t want to endanger that by encouraging over-saturation from competitors.  That’s one of my primary concerns right now.  Others may be more concerned with the “compensation” they get from what they see as “doing a good deed” and helping others along.  I think all the information is out there, and if someone really wants to find it, they can.

Sean Locke at WorkWhat does a typical work day / week look like?

I try to schedule 3-4 shoots a month.  I mix that up with studio/location or people/objects.  It might include a day doing some 3d work as a “shoot”.  The rest is filled in with never ending editing and keywording.  I’d like to be shooting more, but I also have a hard time trusting others to correctly do the processing work.  When the kids are in school, I probably put in 40-50 hours a week.  Plus, I tend to get up early for some reason, so I will work then, as well.  Yes, it is work.  Just because you work at home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat it like a job.

You are one of the most active online people I know, how do you find time for it all?

I need a faster laptop.  When I’m saving a file, I have plenty of time to go posting on forums.

Wedding Couple : Sean LockeHow do you approach a shoot?  How do you research / decide your topics and find your models?

I will both revisit old topics I may have covered a few years ago, and look for new subject that I think may not be over-saturated in the supply market.  I get my models from various online sources, mostly, but I also built a modeling database on my website that models can create a profile with pictures and information on.  I will pull from there from time to time.

Do you have any long term plans or goals with stock?  Will you continue to experiment various types of media (audio, video, illustration)?

Likely, I will concentrate on photo content.  The new IS redeemed credit system does not encourage being a “jack of all trades”.  So I will strive to make the best photo content I can, technically and conceptually, that I feel the buyers might not have seen, or don’t know they want, as well as some good, solid, standard stock content.  I really enjoy the planning and execution of a good photo session.


Thanks Sean, great answers.  I find it very interesting to hear from someone who is very successful in Microstock, yet doesn’t have a large team of employees or hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment.

[Discuss on the Microstock Forum] or post your comments below

About The Author:

Tyler Olson works as a microstock photographer who also runs the MicrostockGroup forum and blog. Being so closely involved in the microstock community as a submitter, forum moderator and blogger, Tyler is able to keep updated in the constantly changing microstock marketplace.
Posted on July 18th, 2011 in Editorial
  • thank you for that interview, sean and tyler. Like said above interesting to hear from someone who is successful but does not have a large team to do that.

  • Such interviews are very useful for everyone.. thx Tyler for it..

  • I love Mr Locke

  • James Benet

    I think we missed a few things here that make Sean what he is…

    a) Being a strong voice in the community to analyze and scrutinize the announcements made by iStock. Helps to aid the community to understand and truly see what they are presented with. With only the agenda of fairness even if that stems from self preservation it helps us all.

    b) Helpful to newbies and seasoned shooters alike, he always finds the time to help you beyond the call of duty, he is a great human being behind the lens also.

    c) A continuous source inspiration for many other shooters like myself to keep trying to approach his execution and drive.

  • You make some good points James, I agree with all of the above.

  • Great interview. As someone who has met Sean, I can verify that he is a secretly sweet and tender human being, despite his to-the-point forum comments! He is always willing to help others get better at what they do. That is different than giving away your trade secrets (what they do vs. what you do). In my mind he is an MVP of the microstock community. And the premiere wallet photographer of our time.

  • tslmj

    Yes, it’s wonderful to know SJL as another one of those one man mission that exemplifies success in stock photography. Other one of my favorite is Lise Gagnon, both Istock-ers.
    It’s also not true that Sean is mean spirited, unlike certain “nicer” people.
    He is always ready to offer help; he just is not one to give you a free lunch without you making the effort yourself . If you are the latter, you will surely get his sharp and short response, “go back to photo school”. Cheers Mr. Locke, cheers Tyler for the interview.

  • Sean is a tremendous talent, someone I truly admire in this business. And despite the to-the-point forum comments, if you take the time to read what he wrote, you will find that he is far more helpful and generous than he is willing to admit. 😛