Renee Robyn’s name is synonymous with fantasy in the photography industry, but the industry is changing and so are the genres we’re familiar with. How is the reigning queen of composites preparing for the future?
Renee Robyn has taught fantasy and composite photography for outlets like PRO EDU, CreativeLive, and Adobe. Her work has been in magazines, on book covers, and on albums. She has been featured by just about every legitimate photography outlet out there, and has legions of fans who flock to her imaginative work and no-nonsense teaching style. Robyn has weathered the fluctuations in the industry over the years, and if there’s one thing she’s learned to cope with as a photographer, it’s change.
Over the last 12 years, Robyn has seen the genre of Fantasy Photography come in and out of style no less than 3 times. And while the democratization of photography means more people have access to image making than ever before, it also means photographers have to work harder to make a living.
“There is always a place for excellence,” Robyn said, “regardless of what your field is,” but with the advent of more and more people creating usable imagery, photographers have to find ways to weather the troughs between waves of popularity. Diversifying can help, but as technology becomes easier to use and more available, photographers need to innovate, or risk being phased out of the industry.
Where is Fantasy Photography Headed?
Robyn expects fantasy photography is headed farther away from pure photography and toward the realm of 3D and digital art. One of the perks of 3D for clients, such as those in the gaming industry, is that they can make simple changes to their models without requiring a reshoot. In situations like that, photography can be a limiting factor. So while there is always space for traditional photography skills, photographers who want to make their living in the fantasy genre would do well to start thinking outside the photography box and discover what additional skills they can add to their image making arsenal, particularly if issues like global pandemics keep people sequestered at home without the ability to shoot money-making campaigns.
But, as long as each creator has a strong vision and style, a “visual flavor,” then Robyn says chances are good their vision will carry them through as they master new image making techniques, especially if they can gather a supportive community behind them. And because less money overall means less ability to outsource tasks like editing, marketing, and other business related jobs, this puts more pressure on individuals to take on multiple roles.
To cope with that, photographers have to find creative solutions and spend time investing in the social platforms that work best for them so they can focus their energy in profitable places. This requires some trial and error, investing in a platform long enough to see if it will reward your efforts, but Robyn wants people to keep in mind that social media isn’t the only way to gain traction, or even the right answer for everyone. While success completely outside social platforms is rare, it is possible to and may be the right path for some people.
And for those photographers who want to make Fantasy their main gig, the struggle of finding a profitable audience is real.
Where to Find Work
“There’s more book covers being licensed than ever before, because more people are publishing from ever before. But they’re also paying less than ever before,” Robyn said. So, creating stock or custom art for book covers could be a great lane for hopeful fantasy photographers, as long as they educate themselves on the publishing industry so they can make informed decisions about things like licensing fees. And, if they do, Twitter may be a great place to make contact with authors. “I didn’t realize (Twitter) was so active for authors, it’s far more active than Facebook or Instagram, obviously because those are image based platforms,” Robyn told me. Goodreads and LInkedin are other platforms she recommends for getting in touch with potential book cover clients.
Album covers, while not as lucrative as they used to be, are still an avenue for paid gigs. Robyn recommends sites like Bandcamp and SoundCloud for getting in touch with musicians who need photographs for promotional material and album covers.
One avenue many photographers may not have considered is working with exotic dancers or burlesque performers. Robyn says that not only do these clients have great ideas, but they also come to the table with fantastic costumes and the ability to perform comfortably for the camera.
It’s important for photographers to keep in mind that, no matter who the client is, contracts are the key to keeping a safe and profitable business relationship. Usage, terms, and conditions must be clearly outlined and understood by both parties. “My favorite thing about all licensing agreements is it’s basically your breakup history with all your other clients,” she joked. But when negotiating rates, Robyn cautions that it’s easier to negotiate down, than up, so photographers should be careful not to underbid themselves. Business is business, after all.
Which brought Robyn to what might have been the most important part of our conversation: there is no one right path to success. Much of the journey is trial and error, spending time and effort discovering what works for you as a creative businessperson, removing the things that don’t work, and then finessing the rest until it fits into some kind of cohesive approach. As long as you keep in mind that your approach may have to change over time, you’re willing to be flexible as the market changes, and you’re willing to stay the course, there will likely always be a seat for you at the fantasy table.
For Robyn, as she looks back at her photography career, she’s less concerned about making a lasting impact with her work and more concerned with staying true to who she is as a person, living a life she enjoys as much as possible. Did she do more good than harm, and do her memories cause joy? And as long as fantasy photography continues to bring her joy, Renee Robyn will continue to create and innovate, and the rest of us will get the pleasure of living in the incredible worlds she creates, and solid advice she is generous enough to share.
You can watch the full interview with Renee on YouTube, and head over to her Instagram for more incredible photos.
Nicole York is a Narrative Photographer and author who specializes in telling stories. She believes stories are the threads that weave the fabric of life, and her goal is to create a richer world by telling those stories and educating and encouraging others to tell stories of their own. To see more of her work, check out her Instagram.