Last week we brought you Part I of our Practitioner Series—an interview with the VP of Experience Design at Citrix—and this week we’re excited to share an exciting Part II Q & A with the curator at Shutterstock, Robyn Lange. As we noted last week—this is just the beginning of our exciting new series of interviews with experts from all walks of design to help showcase emerging trends and share their views on what’s coming, and what’s going. With each interview, we will dive into the many facets of design from those in-the-know. We are eager to hear what you think about the Practitioner Series, and if you have suggestions for more experts to interview, we’d love to hear from you!

Q: I’d like to start off the interview with defining what “being a curator” means for the world wide web, to you? Typically, when folks hear that one is a curator, their mind goes to museums or the like. But you’re a different type of curator, as you work for a photo destination, Shutterstock. How then do you define curation in digital?

Ultimately, the objective of a curator, whether they work in a museum or in a digital format, is to enhance the experience of the viewer or participant by pulling together the best content for the project. I think that I have an advantage over my museum counterparts, however, in that I have a library of over 60 million assets (including photos, vectors and illustrations) to pull from whereas they are limited to a much smaller sampling. Curating in a digital format means that I am limited only in imagination.

Note to our readers: Shutterstock has become much more than just images, they now have videos and music available for licensing, too.

Q: Obviously, Shutterstock is a destination for so many people in varying industries from journalism to corporate America to bloggers and agencies. How do you please such a diverse audience? What are some ways you filter your decisions for curating based on their varied wants-and-needs?

Isn’t there an old adage about pleasing all of the people some of the time? One fun section on Shutterstock’s website is our Featured Lightboxes, which I’m able to use to reach a wide audience. They’re curated collections based on a particular theme. These lightboxes allow me to be more loose and topical with my selections.

As a general rule, though, I try to curate with an aspirational bend. Perhaps the specific imagery doesn’t apply to the project that someone is working on, but I’m hoping that it will spark inspiration in the search for the perfect asset.

Q: In terms of curating as a career, what are some challenges you face? How do you remedy your challenges? Do you have any stories that you could share?

The hardest part of curation is trying to translate someone else’s vision into something tangible. I do a lot of research before I ever pull any assets in order to understand what the client’s needs might be and what would be most useful and relevant.

The Shutterstock website appears in 20 different languages and recently I was asked to pull localized content for a particular language and market. It requires an in-depth understanding of cultural preferences and tastes. In addition to preliminary research I conduct, I rely on diverse and international colleagues to make sure that I’m on the right track.

Q: What are some misconceptions people have regarding curating for the web? Are there consistent misconceptions about Shutterstock that deserve some air-clearing?

There seems to be an assumption that web curation is quick and painless, but in reality I spend days searching for just the right images. When you have this much content and so much new content (50,000 new images added daily)—it takes a fair amount of time to find exactly what you want—although I may be a bit more particular than most.

The biggest misconception about Shutterstock is because we have low subscription rates, then we must not have beautiful imagery, but that’s definitely not the case. I hope to spend the coming months bringing those beautiful assets front-and-center to show them off to the world so that our clients can see the innumerable options they’re able to access.

Q: Do you have any insider tips for people looking to make the most out their search for great images? Do you have any creative tips as well for executing on image-based content?

If you search for content on a regular basis, I highly recommend using the lightboxes. If you’re working on one project, but happen to come across something fantastic that you love (which I do all the time), it’s so easy to stash it away in a lightbox so that you’ll be able to retrieve it at a later date.

Another feature that I really like and utilize often is the Similar Images content that pops up below any asset that you select. It’s a great jumping off point for discovering new content that maybe didn’t have the exact keywords that you were searching, but is still relevant.

Q: How did you become interested in curating for the web? Could you explain a little about how you came to arrive in this field?

I spent the last 11 years as a freelance photo editor and producer in magazine publishing, which I loved, but I really wanted to try a new direction with my career. Frankly, it hadn’t even occurred to me that a position like this existed until I saw the job posting, and once I learned more about the work, I really felt that it would be a positive move.

Photo editing and curating are quite similar, but at a tech company I benefit from the drive to implement changes and improvements quickly. It’s really refreshing to make a suggestion and see it come to fruition in my lifetime. I’m also given a lot of autonomy in choosing content that will be the best representation of what Shutterstock is as a company. It’s no small task, but it’s rewarding.

Q: If someone was looking to become a curator, what advice do you have for them?

Practitioner Series View Reading List

It’s important to train your eye toward good imagery. Look at a wide variety of photography and illustration in various mediums (museums, magazines, websites) to understand what it is that makes an image successful or beautiful. And buy a copy of Susan Sontag’s “On Photography.”

Q: What are your top favorite images you’ve curated or ones you’re most proud of obtaining, and why? 

I just completed an infographic on people, and as any photo researcher can attest to, it’s very difficult to find images of our fellow man that feel authentic and are commercially viable. I spent two solid weeks curating the lightboxes for this particular infographic, and I’m especially proud of these four photos:

Q: OK, last question. What are some of the best tips you can give someone who has similar dreams as you? Can you share a personal story, trial-or-tribulation that you overcame, to inspire someone to never give up on their dreams?

Don’t be afraid to take a risk, but don’t be foolish about it either. Take those dreams out of the air and put real work into them. When you have the necessary basics down, such as being organized and responsible, then you can start being proactive about achieving your goals. Little steps are okay, not everything has to be a dramatic leap.

When I finished college (with a degree in psychology, not photography or art) I really opened myself up to any opportunities that I thought might be worthy. I accepted jobs in various states across the country that I had never been to under the guise that it would be an experience to learn from and a personal challenge as well. One experience leads to another and eventually you will find that you’ve built a nice career for yourself, almost by accident. Sometimes it can feel lonely to put yourself out there with barely a tether to ground, but it’s a great way to build your confidence and find strength in your vision.

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