Westend61 is home to more than 400 international photographers. Each one contributes his or her individual nature, attitude toward life, and background so that our picture collection is characterized by a wide variety.
We spoke to our photographer, Steve Brookland, who gave us an insight into his exciting life and work model.
Already at school, Steve had studied visual media as a cameraman in various film projects. He shot music videos, artist portraits, and short films, so it was no surprise that after graduating school he became a video journalist. Later, he landed in Cologne where he worked as an assistant to a photographer. This was followed by three years as a freelance assistant for more than 50 various photographers worldwide—an activity that gave him in-depth insight into the craft of photography and paved the way for his later self-employment as a photographer and filmmaker. In addition to learning the classic craft, during this time, Steve found it especially inspiring to experience how each photographer dealt individually with his clients, he tells us.
For 18 years now, Steve and his wife Rike, who takes care of the entire pre-production and post-production process and works as a creative retoucher, have been working successfully as freelance photographer and filmmaker for various customers.
About three years ago, two of Steve’s most lucrative customers unexpectedly left, and this event led Steve to rethink his entire personal and professional life plan. He critically questioned depending on customer’s orders, having to constantly process orders, and whether one works to live or lives to work, with no time for family.
“I looked at alternative life models, the subject of minimalism, and the question of what ultimately makes me happy personally.”
Together with his young family, Steve then decided that their future should be more location-independent and free. They wanted to have the opportunity to work from anywhere in the world, and a second income was needed to make this possible. In addition to selling commissioned photography, he considered the idea of taking stock photos for the market.
He remembered that a few years earlier he had received a request from Westend61, but for whatever reason there had never been any collaboration. Stock photography had been a rather unimportant subject for Steve at the time, influenced by the negative image of the microstock photography agencies and the widespread opinion that successful advertising photographers “don’t do stock,” and if so, then only under a pseudonym. But now that his life parameters had changed, Steve decided to give stock photography another chance, especially as the freedom from custom orders looked to be very promising.
“After my first production, it was clear to me that I would build up a portfolio at Westend61.”
The freedom to be able to pursue individual productions and give free rein to your creativity and spontaneity are—unlike in advertising photography—characteristics that Steve has come to appreciate. They allow him to realize what he finds so special about photography: “Discovering special moments,” as he enthusiastically explains to us. And it is precisely these moments that he tries to capture in his stock photos.
Steve’s photos stand out because they are very expressive and lively, and they place people at their focus. This is because he likes to be around people and grapple with them; he listens to their stories and tries to relieve them of their initial shyness in front of the camera. He wants to capture their attitudes toward life, and in order to do this, he has to communicate with them, he tells us.
“A good stock photo sells well. If a photo doesn’t sell, it’s not a good stock photo. It’s that simple.”
His productions are more spontaneous in nature and can develop by finding a suitable location or meeting special people. After he has an idea in his head, Steve considers a central theme, calls his team together, and possibly organizes the props. Then he creates a list of motifs with keywords, searches the Internet for related themes, and off he goes! But the list is only a very rough guide; usually he forgets it in his pants pocket, he tells us with a smile. His enthusiasm and enjoyment of photography is often so unrestrained during production that sometimes his Westend61 art director, Michael Kopal, kindly points out that a certain motif has been wrapped up for a long time.
Although he used to work with mobile flashes a lot in the past—“sometimes up to eight or more flashes were in use,” he tells us—Steve now works with available light and fixed focal lengths. The latter have the advantage of forcing photographers to move on the set, which often leads to inspiration and spontaneous and unique images, says Steve.
“I’m just traveling the world a lot, trying to produce stock pictures on a regular basis.”
Whether it’s a villa in Bali or a high rise in Bangkok, Steve’s locations are often very interesting and extraordinary, sometimes even exotic. In addition, his models are very charismatic and radiate a lot of character. Steve knows from his experience in the industry which faces are in demand in advertising, but he does not shy away from showing new and interesting ones. He finds his models in everyday life, although his wife Rike is often the one who takes over the initial interview—“she can do better somehow,” he adds with a grin.
“Westend61 is fair, innovative, and, above all, a local hero.”
For Steve, working together with Westend61 feels like family. The exchange and communication between the photographers and the agency is unique for him. Although, as is often the case, many photographers are afraid that others could “look the other way,” Westend61 is such that the feeling you are part of a large family prevails. And he finds one thing in particular: with Westend61, he has an agency that knows what the most valuable thing is: The photographers.
When asked about his plans for the future, Steve tells us that he wants to continue working on building up his portfolio with Westend61 and staying with what he does best, namely lifestyle photography. His goal by the end of the year is to cover his entire living with income from stock photography at Westend61. We’re of the mind that this can be achieved with such good stock photos, and we will make sure that Steve’s photos continue to be marketed as successfully possible!
By the way: Steve is currently working on developing an online course in which he would like to offer all his knowledge on “successful lifestyle stock photography” in a bundled format.
Here you can see Steve in action: