Interview with Mat Hayward, Adobe Stock Artist Evangelist

Following on with the Stock-Wizards Interview Series, today I’m pleased to share with you an interview with Seattle-based, Mat Hayward, Adobe Stock Artist Evangelist. Disclaimer that this is purely an objective interview with no affiliate links or vested financial interests. Let’s get started!


Hi Мat, happy to have you with us at the Brutally Honest Stock Photography Blog! You hold an unique position of being both a Microstock contributor (Link to Mat’s impressive port at Adobe Stock) and an Adobe Stock Representative (“Adobe Stock Artist Evangelist”). Please tell us about your journey on how you become an Adobe Evangelist and secondly, how did it help you to gain a better understanding of Microstock industry.

Thank you, Alex and Elijah! I can talk about stock all day (and often do!) so it’s a pleasure to chat with both of you. I came into my current role through my passion and experience as a photographer and stock contributor.

I managed restaurants for more years than I care to admit, while managing a photography business at the same time. Initially, I focused on weddings and portraits, migrating towards stock as a Fotolia exclusive (prior to being acquired by Adobe Stock) and entertainment photographer. I quickly became addicted to creating commercial stock content and enjoyed the online community in the forums during some epic debates. I volunteered my time with Fotolia moderating the forum and providing feedback to the agency.

It took me a couple of decades, but I finally left the restaurant business to pursue photography full time. The very next day, a position came open in the customer service team at Fotolia. This was perfect: it gave me a consistent income and the flexibility to continue accepting photography assignments. Little did I know how much it would change my life.

Soon after Adobe acquired Fotolia a couple of years later, the company created a new role for me as a full time Adobe Stock Evangelist. This has meant a shift in focus (ha!) from customers to my true passion, artists: our stock Contributors. It’s truly a dream job!

Sounds like you made the correct decision to leave the restaurant industry! What does it mean to be an “Adobe Stock Artist Evangelist”? What does the job involve?

It means I talk and type a lot! Essentially, my job is to reach as many creatives as possible to educate about Adobe Stock from the contributor perspective. As an Evangelist, I speak with creatives around the world to give them a look at what it means to be an Adobe Stock contributor and how to find success.

I also engage in online forums. Last year we started a community on Discord for Adobe Stock contributors. The engagement there has been phenomenal. I’m active daily, along with many other members of the Adobe Stock team.

Pre-pandemic, when human beings could be in proximity with one another (remember that?), I traveled the world quite a bit for public speaking engagements at photography- and creativity-focused trade shows, and multiple universities. One of the last in-person events I did was during the incredible 2019 Adobe MAX Creativity conference where I was awarded the prestigious title of “MAX Master” based on attendee feedback. That was a huge honor for me. See below a pic from the event!

Finally, there is another element beyond speaking which is possibly more important: listening. A critical part of my role is to hear artist feedback and communicate with Adobe Stock leadership to make sure that Contributors have a seat at the table when decisions are made.

Photo courtesy of Brad Moore

How did your journey of becoming a photographer begin? Was it a hobby, a childhood dream, or just a confluence of events that made you dabble in this path?

Both my grandfather and uncle were passionate about photography, and I wanted to follow in their example. Beyond that, though, was an episode early in my life that had a major impact.

As a kid, I changed schools a lot: I went to 5 different elementary schools and 7 different high schools. My freshman year in high school, I went to a private Catholic school for the first and only time in my life. The first week featured a formal freshman initiation, and I was terrified! In my previous schools, getting initiated meant being publicly humiliated in horrifying ways I won’t get into. I didn’t know a single person yet and wanted no part of this, but I had to go regardless. On a whim, I brought my camera and that was a life-changing decision. The initiation was definitely embarrassing for freshmen, but it didn’t turn out to be as awful as I feared — and my camera gave me special status. Instead of the seniors dumping a bucket of water on my head or throwing a cream pie in my face like they did to all the other freshmen, they called me over when they had a freshman in their grasp, so I could take a photo of them being obnoxious! It turned out the yearbook team used the same brand of camera as me. They assumed I was shooting for the yearbook and wanted to become “famous.” I must have shot over 1,000 frames (far more than I had actual film) while staying completely out of trouble.

The valuable lesson I learned was that having a camera gives you access you wouldn’t get otherwise. Later in life, my camera put me on stage for huge concerts in front of tens of thousands of people and on the red carpet at some of the most prestigious award shows in the world with A-list celebrities giving me their best look. 

Adobe offers its contributors a free Adobe Portfolio website. How this project is going, is it popular among contributors?

 Adobe Portfolio is a great way to build a fully-hosted, customizable website to showcase your creative work. There is great integration with Adobe Stock that allows you to seamlessly share custom collections. Adobe Portfolio is included with Creative Cloud and free to all Adobe Stock Contributors — with or without a CC subscription. Additionally, we have bonus programs where we provide codes for Creative Cloud subscriptions that include Adobe Portfolio anyway!

A question that photographers often ask themselves quite – “I got talent and experience, how do I find big clients?” “How do I approach big companies and offer my services?” Do you have anything to share with photographers that want to get foot in the door and start working with big brand names? How did you find your first big client?

There is no secret formula here. It takes hard work, perseverance, thick skin, and a dash of luck. You need to continue to evolve your work. Be a professional no matter what. Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. Show your work: Adobe Portfolio is free for stock contributors, remember? Be humble.

Back in my days working in a restaurant, we were hosting live music events and I would bring my camera and share them with the event promoters, a popular Seattle radio station. That led to covering more shows for them as a volunteer, and I treated those opportunities as if they were paid gigs. That let them know I was serious and established my reputation as a professional, leading to real paid gigs. Word travels fast. If you build a good reputation, many people will hear about it.

Great advice! How did COVID-19 affect your professional life? Do you shoot more or less these days?

The events and entertainment opportunities dried up fast, that can’t be overstated. The entire entertainment industry has been devastated and photographers are no exception.

At Adobe Stock, my life shifted during the pandemic. Instead of traveling, we adapted into a virtual world. Adobe MAX became an online event free to all. My speaking engagement there was seen by a massive global audience. We began a popular new webinar series, sharing stock industry tips and special guest artists. I host a monthly Stock 101 session with a live Q&A for new Contributors or for industry veterans in need of a refresher course (or just in need of my corny dad jokes). (If you don’t get the email notifications of these, be sure to opt into marketing emails at Adobe.)

Personally, I’ve maintained a steady pace of creating new stock content for my own portfolio, though what I shot changed. For one thing, I started teaching myself about shooting video and postproduction, finally digging into Adobe Premiere Pro and learning that it isn’t all that different from Photoshop. There are custom export settings specific for Adobe Stock that really helped me out and I find myself flipping the switch from photo to video a lot more frequently.

Shooting with a drone has been another pandemic hobby that has become a borderline obsession for me! I got a Mavic Mini II and that has really expanded my world of photography/videography into an entirely new dimension.

Of course, it’s been harder to work with models while socially distancing, so I needed to focus on other things. Savvy Contributors started creating content that related to the pandemic in a commercial way in the early days. I shot some and found some success but in hindsight, I should have upped my game. There have been huge opportunities for Contributors. Now, the smart Contributors are creating content that meets the near-future needs that show the world re-opening.

In my personal world of creativity, I started to teach myself to paint. Nothing I have is worthy of showing off to anyone beyond my immediate family, but it’s been great fun making a mess and tapping into that section of my brain. Hopefully everyone reading this found the time to learn something new during the unprecedented time we’ve all experienced. 

What do you miss the most when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic? Seems shooting live music shows was a big part of your work. I would definitely miss Joe Satriani and Metallica gigs, roaring crowds and the energy of rock concerts, but that’s just me…

I do look forward to getting back to covering live music, big parties, film festivals, and all that fun stuff. However, all that is secondary to what I miss the most: genuine connection with other people.

Meeting with creatives at in-person events is something I deeply enjoy. I love to travel, meet new people, and see old friends. Entertainment events can be a lot of fun, but they can also be superficial and short-lived. Brushes with glamor pale in comparison with the real friendships and conversations I have with other photographers.

2020 had its upside, too. I’ve spent more time with my family this past year than ever before. I tend to work to the point of exhaustion. I’m reluctant to admit how much quality family life I missed because of my work. This past year gave me much better perspective on what is truly important in life.

A lot of contributors preach a “doom and gloom” attitude. What is your take on today’s Microstock industry in general? Where do you think it is heading?

The world is changing rapidly, especially in the velocity of content needs and the way people consume images — and the stock industry mirrors those changes. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and uncertain about change. For some, who are unwilling to change as the industry does, it may get harder. For others who are looking at this with a more clinical approach, they will find the new opportunities and thrive. Stock content needs are growing and it’s up to us creators to stay on top of visual trends and market signals so we can produce the imagery clients really want.

The need for high quality and quantity of stock content will continue to be there. Regardless of market disruption and new business models, relevant content will remain in demand. Those artists in March 2020 that created images conveying the concept of COVID-19 did really well. To be successful requires a content strategy that projects mainstream trends on the rise, seasonal needs, and targeting content gaps. Additionally, we are all challenged with creating a production infrastructure that does more with less — we are not only creatives but entrepreneurs.

Recommend you check out the YouTube video below entitled “Tips to Create Stock Photography That Makes Money” for more tips.

You are an avid poster at MicroStockGroup Forum – first of all, thank you for that, since a lot of contributors lack an open dialog with company representatives. But here you go – an unexpected question… Photographers are known to be not the most reserved kind of people to put it politely and can snap quite easily. How you manage to stay open, level-headed and keep the level of integrity that is appreciated by lots of us.

I love the MSG forum! It’s been a daily part of my life for much longer than my time employed in the stock industry. I don’t have a lot of time, and even less patience for malarkey. I genuinely don’t. While yes, over the years there have been some (*ahem*) challenging conversations, I don’t take it personally. I think it is a huge, missed opportunity for large agencies to avoid engaging directly with artists. Without Contributors, agencies do not exist. What is consistent and authentically productive is hearing the truth from different perspectives — even hard truths.

When I post, I do so with my voice and with integrity. I may not always tell you what you want to hear, but I will give you what I believe is the truth. I am always willing to answer the hard questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll do my best to find out. The feedback I have been given through MSG has resulted in real changes in the industry. I am so grateful to everyone there for accepting me in the community and for providing honest feedback and engaging debate. 

A lot of contributors hold an opinion that “It is too late in the game to start earning from Microstock” as the market appears to be oversaturated with pretty much any topic is profusely covered by photographers that may have a better skillset. Also quality gear can be quite expensive, and the return of investment may be unlikely for many years…therefore, what would be your advice to people who are just about to start with Microstock photography?

I believe that attitude is everything. If you believe you are going to fail, you probably will. If you come into it willing to put the work in, there is as much, if not more opportunity now than there ever has been before.  People are consuming content at an incredible rate.

My advice to people just starting out is to focus on the quality of the content you are creating and submitting. Next, spend time carefully indexing your content. Keywords and titles are another area in which you have control over your own destiny. If you don’t have time to effectively keyword, wait until you do before you submit your content. You need to build your portfolio and figure out what sells for you, then do more of that while continuing to experiment and diversify your portfolio.

If you are including people in your photos, which I highly recommend you do, I strongly encourage you to be as inclusive and diverse as you possibly can be when it comes to casting models. People want to see themselves represented in media. Ad agencies and stock customers know this very well. Submitting stock content is not a get-rich-quick scheme. However, if you are willing to put in the work — both in learning your craft and consistently producing sellable content — I don’t care how long you’ve been submitting, you can win at the stock game!

Adobe Stock announced Pro Edition, a new plan for Creative Cloud for Teams and Enterprises, which supplies unlimited downloads from our Standard collection of photos, illustrations, and vectors. Contributors receive 33% of Adobe revenue from stock. Payouts will be distributed among Contributors proportional to their downloads. However, it appears that it wasn’t met with great enthusiasm from the contributors’ community. What is your take on how this might affect contributor earnings and what to expect from it in general?

I know change almost always leads to apprehension, but most stock artists also realize that change is inevitable — and it can hold a lot of new opportunities for those that choose to embrace it.

The Creative Cloud Pro Edition plans are the result of a ton of research and are a direct response to what clients are demanding. Targeted specifically for enterprises and business teams, the Pro Edition plans are designed to give all users within an organization the ability to use stock assets without the frustrating approval process that exists for many of them today. It’s very different from the old subscription model, where only the members of the design studio team would have it, for example.

What this means is a big expansion in the number of users in a business, empowered to license and create with stock. Now, everyone in that organization is paying for high quality stock, not “just getting by” with unlicensed or free images. That is huge.

Since Adobe Stock launched, we have always actively looked for ways to increase Contributor revenue while remaining competitive in the market and meeting the needs of customers. That will never change.

Unavoidable question – what is your gear of choice?

I am a Canon guy for life! The service and support I have received from Canon over the years has been second to none. I was a Nikon film photographer and my first DSLR was a Nikon (D2H) but I switched to Canon when the 20Ds came out and have never looked back. I use a 1DX Mark III and a 1DX Mark II primarily which is overkill for stock but is necessary for my entertainment work. Critically important lenses are the 24-70 f/2.8 and the 70-200 f/2.8. I used my 16-35 f/2.8 a lot more this past year and was reminded how much fun that is for stock, too. If I was only shooting commercial stock I would likely be using the R5.

All that said, though, the truth is this: what’s between your ears is lot more important than the tool you are holding in front of your face.

Looking back at your long career as a photographer – what would be your advice as to what mistakes to avoid?

That’s a tough question. I learn as much from my mistakes as I do from my success. So, I guess my advice is, fail forward.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — but when you do, be sure to learn from them. Challenge yourself. Don’t worry about how many likes you get on Instagram, do what fulfills you as an artist. Learn the rules of photography and then break them in a way that is uniquely you. Be true to yourself and the right audience will come.

Don’t show off work you don’t want to do a lot of and be selective. Look at your work with a critical eye. Seek hard, true critiques. Find a mentor or real friend that is willing to tell you an image you made sucks, if it does suck. Then, go out and do what you did before, only better. Then repeat that process. Never, ever stop learning…and always spell check your keywords before submitting your stock content!


Thanks, Mat for this opportunity and wish you good health and prosperity! See/read you soon at the MSG Forum!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (mid-2021??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

5 comments

  1. Mat sold out his fellow creatives with that Adobe subscription plan .
    However, he is doing it for his family, so its understood.

    Like

  2. Thanks Alex! You also appreciate your talent as journalist! You can do it in compination with photography

    Like

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